Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Methinks they mistake me for someone else

About twenty minutes after we were married, the “china” pattern (it’s not china, you understand, but “china” – far nicer than what you tend to get at, but not “ohmygah, don’t use THAT plate, it’s $400 a setting!” china) we picked out, the one the saleslady assured us was not ever going to be discontinued…was discontinued.

Time, and four children, worked its wicked wiles on our collection.

First there was the problem of having four children in the first place, which at first was no big deal because, you know, I was the bottle and then later they ate off plastic plates because ha ha, who would put porcelain in front of a toddler (she said Way Back When, not realizing that the destructive capabilities of children when it comes to things like ceramics is not limited to toddlers but carries on well into at least their forties, if what has happened to most of our broken plates is any indication).

But then they got older and we started giving them regular plates and suddenly we’d be out of plates all the danged time.

Then there was That Thing that happens when you have a larger-than-average family. While I know that statistically speaking it isn’t true and that actually, most of the time it’s “just” the six of us…it feels like I’m always turning around from the stove to find eight or ten or fifteen people staring expectantly at me.

And they expect, you know, a plate. With food on it.

And then, of course, there’s no getting around the inevitable, which sounds like this: “::crash!!::…sorry, mommy!”


Bowls in particular have a way of getting smashed around here. Slippery little devils, I suppose.

SO. A long, long time ago, before I had a couple really awesome eBay scores and filled out the collection pretty nicely (it helps when you’re not too fussy about ‘pristine condition’ or the color of the ‘new’ plates matching that of the ‘old’ ones exactly), I registered at Replacements, Ltd.

If you haven’t heard of them – they specialize in helping you find all the stuff you’re missing from your china (or “china”) collection – as well as silver, crystal, etc. etc. etc.

I can entertain myself for hours in the silver category. Oh look, a tea set, pot, sugar/cream, tray, only fifteen THOUSAND dollars! I’ll take two! Plus the matching coffee pot, for a mere $8,000! Why not?!

Ahem. Anyway. I got an email from my esteemed friends encouraging me to register my other patterns in time for the holidays – with instructions on how to do this so they can immediately begin scouring the world in search of the pieces of silver, crystal (uh…Mikasa? From their, erm, outlet?) and china (or “china”, Replacements doesn’t judge) missing from my collection.

Now on the one hand, good idea! I mean, if your holidays are going to be utterly ruined because you do not have the gravy boat that goes with your beloved family heirloom china, the time to be thinking about that is not four days before the Festive Event. (In fact, arguably, two days before Thanksgiving may also be a tad too late to be pondering these things, but let’s just move on.)

On the other hand…I think they have me confused with somebody else.

I have one (1) “china” pattern. And then I have three other sorta-sets that fill in.

One cheap functional set of Ye Basic White dishes.

One REALLY cheap very casual set of brown dishes I bought one fall in a fit of Martha Stewart-ish behavior brought on by not having enough dishes for a party I was stressed out about throwing. (These were purchased before the very functional white ones. They were a tad on the affordable side, and if you look at them too hard the glaze chips right off them.) (But I can’t get rid of them because I never know when I’m going to need them, because everybody invited two friends, who invited two friends, and so on and so on and so on.)

And a too-small set of Christmas plates. They’re fun, but again they’re (ahem) not exactly “china”, or even “not-china.” They’re mass produced cheap Christmas themed plates like you see at every, every Christmas. You can practically see through them, they’re so cheap.

I think there are sturdier paper plates.

So, really…I don’t feel the need to search out the salad plates that go with the dancing reindeer dinner plates, you know? (If they even have such a thing. If Replacement even deigns to admit they exist. There are limits to the non-judging thing, after all.) And I wouldn’t throw good money after bad on the brown ones. Furthermore, the white ones? Yeah. They’re standard restaurant issue – available just about anywhere you pick up restaurant supplies at very reasonable prices.

They make up in sturdiness and low cost what they may lack in aesthetic delights.

And it can be amusing when people come over for the first time and are all, “Oh! My favorite café has these same exact plates!”

Of COURSE it does! Because they are cheap but sturdy the perfect blank canvas for culinary brilliance!

In a way, I feel kind of bad. It’s like when you’re walking through a fair and some vendor is trying really, really hard to create a need so s/he can fill it for you.

“Hey! Are you short on phlegm? OF COURSE YOU ARE! And you should totally come over here and tell me all about your phlegm problems, which by the way I can totally solve for you! Seriously! Come on over…tell me your phlegm needs…I am here for you…”

I have no particular need for any more phlegm. (Believe me, we’ve got that covered for now. Thanks all the same.)

But I feel bad ignoring the vendor because I know how depressing that gets. Standing there. Hawking the phlegm to a crowd that just keeps milling past, not sparing you a second glance, until you wonder if perhaps you actually are existing in a parallel universe, where you can see and hear them but they cannot see or hear you…Echo! Echo! Echo!

Top grade phlegm, right here…solve all your phlegm needs…right here…hellllooooooo! Anybody?!

And right now I feel a little bad that I’m such a rotten customer for Replacements.

I wish I did have a burning need for a gravy boat with snowmen on it, or wanted more bowls, or perhaps a couple sets of salt and pepper shakers.

Or wanted to take up collecting silver (ha! HAHAHAHAHAHA! Yeah, I’ll get right on that…because, you know, it would be great to have something incredibly valuable lying around this house! I’m sure the kids wouldn’t use The Good Silver to pry open Coke cans or dig for worms in the backyard, right…?).


But I just don’t.

So. Uh. Good luck with that, Replacements.

I hope your other contacts are better than me, and care whether or not the gravy boat matches anything else on the table.

Me, I’m just happy if it has gravy in it, and it isn’t more lumps than liquid.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

PSA: 40% off at EcoStoreUSA

EcoStore USA is offering 40% off their products through the end of the year - and free shipping on orders over $25.

Take a note on something up front here: Their prices seem high. $11 for a bottle of laundry liquid ($6.60 on sale) seems steep...but I've found I can do a super-full load in my extra-large front load washer on about a tablespoon of this laundry soap. It's extremely concentrated - so while the bottle might seem small for that price, you really use a LOT less than you would with "regular" laundry soap. The price per load for me works out to about the same as Tide at the average on-sale price at Target.

I love their laundry liquid and their rosemary orange shampoo in particular. The shampoo has been great for my scalp, which decided a couple years ago that it would become extremely itchy for no danged reason, most of the time. I've tried about everything on it and frankly what worked on the itch tended to do other things - like blister my scalp, yes way. (That was a prescription deal. Prescription. Shampoo. Just think about that for a second. I had no idea they even HAD such things before I had some. Anyway, I think it had sulfuric acid in it or something. Possibly alien spit and radioactive tar juice. Anyway, it cured the itch but left BURNS ON MY SCALP. All things considered? I'd prefer the itch, thanks all the same.)

That rosemary-orange shampoo, though, actually helps a lot. And makes me wonder if I'm allergic to something in "regular" shampoos. But let's not delve too far into that, because hello, digressionary paths of endlessness.

The best thing about their laundry soap for us is that it leaves nothing behind I can't then pour onto my lawn or roses or even onto my vegetables. Since I've become this rabid water-conscious micro-farmer (oh yeah, that whole 'big garden' thing), I'm pretty intense about trying not to waste water if I don't hafta. I haven't had any ill effects from using the laundry-produced gray water anywhere yet.

Unless you count the times I didn't get the hose all the way into the water tote, and it squirted all over the laundry room and into the hallway and even the downstairs bathroom. Good times! (Jury rigged a heavy fishing weight solution that weighs down the hose so it can't do that anymore. Only took about FOUR flooding-the-laundry-room experiences before I figured that one out.)

And reusing the gray water really does cut down my water bill. It spiked up to almost $130 a month for a while there, but using the laundry water instead brought it back down to the more-normal $60-ish...without having to give up my roses or the front lawn. Or make the kids go without baths.

In related news, it is really shocking just how much water goes down the drain to clean a load of clothes, even if you have an "efficient" washer. It's an "out of sight, out of mind" kind of thing, and I'd never really thought about it much. After all, I've got one of those energy star, California-friendly, "high efficiency" washers with smart-sense technology blah blah blah, right?

One week's laundry equates to nearly 300 gallons of water. 300 gallons!! DANG!

But I digress. (Oh. There's a surprise.)

Great sale. Great products.

And they didn't pay or even ask me to say so.

Deja flippin’ vu

IN REVIEW. Last week, my husband and I stayed home two days each because Boo Bug wasn’t feeling well. Cough, fever, misery.

Meanwhile in other news, Captain Adventure is just getting over a nasty sinus infection, and I just started antibiotics for my lovely adventures in sinus bacteria.

SO. This morning at 4:15 a.m., the husband and I are awakened by Danger Mouse, who is standing in the doorway saying, “Boo Bug is throwing up.”

Because we are such loving, caring, parents, we were immediately full of concern(s).

Like, is she throwing up in the toilet, or all over her bed?, and which one of us is staying home because I can tell you one thing for sure, Jack, it ain’t gonna be ME

I even went ahead and got dressed like it was a done deal that I would be the one going into the office today. Because you know…act like the answer is obvious, and maybe it will be?

It, uh, didn’t work.

And everywhere I went this morning, from the doctor’s waiting room to the pharmacy counter, people kept kind of jumping in surprise and then saying, “Oh, Ms. Chaos, it’s you! Wow, I didn’t recognize you!”

Because slacks, earrings, pumps…yeah. I don’t recognize me, either.

The slacks don’t have a single stain or hole anywhere on them, too. Fancy!

And guess who is basically out of pocket all day today because this time, Boo Bug isn’t staying quietly on the couch like a good little sick child. No. She is rushing to the bathroom over and over again like a sick child with a tummyache. (The actual throwing up part is apparently over now, but she’s not feeling too well and every time she coughs, which is constantly, she thinks she’s going to throw up – run for the bathroom! Screaming, “MOMMY, I’M GONNA BE SICK AGAIN AAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!!!” all the way!)


Get. This.

She doesn’t have The Flu, swine or otherwise. She probably doesn’t even have a cold.

She has…wait for it…a sinus infection.

And the persistent cough? Probably a symptom of the bacterial soup trickling down into her chest (wow, why does this sound so familiar…oh yeah, that’s exactly what my doctor said to me five days ago!).


Can anybody believe, in the face of evidence like adolescence, menopause-induced pimples and stuff like this, that $DEITY doesn’t have a wicked sense of humor?

Geesh. So, I coughed up another $220 at the pharmacy counter today for an assortment of antibiotics, regular medications and some stuff that is supposed to stop nausea/vomiting/diarrhea cold, daydreamed about the days when we had an HMO with $10 and $25 copays, bought a bunch of Spongebob chicken noodle soup, plain soda crackers and Pedialyte for the Delicate One, came home and changed out of my work clothes and, well, here I am.

I have officially spent more than I earned these last two weeks on pediatric visits and medication. And nobody has had the common decency to give me anything…you know…that might cause dizziness, or at least a cheerful, ‘Who cares if I’m not earning any money this week, I just feel soooooo happy right now! Whoopee!!’ demeanor.

Not that I’d take it if they did, because I actually despise feeling that kind of giddy. Control issues, you know how it is.

But I’d look at the bottle in my medicine chest and think, …at least they CARE…

In closing, I would like to urge everybody to take very good care of their sinuses, so that they can take good care of you.

Although I have to admit, it was kind of nice when I couldn’t smell the litter box.

Just sayin’.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Still a miracle drug to me

They can diss it all they want. They can sing the praises of the new, the improved, the not-last-year's-model.

I woke up this morning with no headache. And this afternoon, I suddenly noticed that heyyyyyyy...I can breathe through my nose again!

Amoxicillin is my friend. It has once again brought me back YEA VERILY from the very edge of Death.

And only cost six bucks.

Now, all I need to do is remain faithful and take the rest of the miracle pills, even though I now feel Just Fine. I must stay the course, see it through, keep...ooooh look, something SHINY!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Nose, Ears and Eyes have it

So I went in and they took my temperature and said, “Oh ya, you’ve got a fever there.”

Then we discussed symptoms and they went, “Tsk! Tsk!”

Then I whined something about “make it go away now, please” and they said, “HAHAHAHA! Oh gracious, dear, you’re way past the window for antiviral medication and we’re far too understocked to just give it out anyway! You’ll just have to ride this one out, ha ha ha.”

At this point, I said, “Well! OK! Glad we had this little chat, good seeing everybody, I’ll just be going now!” and tried to weasel my way out the door before anybody could remember that I was overdue for having my lab work done.

Aaaaaaaaaand the good doctor threw himself in front of the door and barked, “HOLD IT!”

Damn. He’s good. He can sense a runner right through a closed door. Must be one of those classes they have to take; maybe an elective, like Illegible Handwriting, or Avoiding Crazy People. (He missed that last one, obviously.)

And then he peered up my nose (does he not have an awesome job?!), and into my ears (past the cobwebs) and down my throat (again…awesome…makes me wanna go back to school for a whack of years so I can also join this Noble Profession), and then he listened to me breathe and cough. Then he made Doctor Face and went, hmmm a couple times, and then he wired off a prescription for the cheap antibiotic because my sinuses and my ears are not merely “stuffy” but infected.

Also, I may be developing pink eye. Triple Awesome!!! But weird, because none of the kids have it and I don’t generally just sort of develop pink eye all on my own.

I need to have help. Usually from one of the kids.

Then again, maybe my eyes just wanted to close the circle, so to speak. They wanted to be part of the great cycle of love and goodwill that is my entire head right now.

Sinuses! Ear drums! Eyes! Are you feeling the LOVE, people?!

And then, just as I was starting to think whew, he totally forgot I’m overdue for my…, he did it. “OK, and while you’re here…you’re WAY overdue for the torture chamber so! We’ll just have Evelyn here strap you in and jam a metal rod into your flesh, ‘kay?”

Evelyn is such a nice sounding name, too. You wouldn’t expect someone named Evelyn to be a brutish thug who tortures people for a living.

And then draws a smiley face on the band-aid oh yes she did.

Thanks, Evelyn. That just makes it all worth doing, you know?

(Aw, I kid. Evelyn is actually a very sweet lady, whose name is not Evelyn but rather an equally nice sort of name, and if I wasn’t worried that someday I might say something mean about her in a fit of pique and then she’d find my blog and be all oh, REALLY?! and then start filing the points of her needles blunt when she saw me coming, I’d tell you what it is. But I doubt she would. She’s very good at her job, and takes a lot of pride in being able to get the deed done without any unnecessary drama. If you didn’t know better, you might not even realize you were being tortured. Only people with my finely tuned senses are able to pick up the true horror involved in having blood drawn. It’s a gift. Really.)

Now, I told you that so I could tell you this: Is it not kind of ironic that Captain Adventure is just getting over a sinus infection, and I’m just starting one? What is this, some kind of mother-son bonding thing?

Because I can think of better ones, people.

Things involving Play-Doh, or maybe rollercoasters. Stuff like that.

Sinus infections? Not high on my list of bonding experiences.

But hey, what do I know about anything, right? Maybe these are the things of which our warmest memories will be made. “Hey mom, remember that time we both had sinus infections, almost at the same time?” “Sure do, honey! What a wonderful experience that was, both of us, taking antibiotics, blowing our noses every eight seconds…” “Yeah, and you kept blowing songs, remember? And I thought it was hysterical that you could make music when you blew your nose?” “Oh yeah. Good times, son, goooood times…”

And just think: The timing is such that we’ll have these conversations over Thanksgiving dinner! Sweet!

…with any luck, Uncle Captain and I will be able to totally gross out the grandkids, each and every year…

(…heh…I can just hear the conversation now… “Mooooom, grandma isn’t going to tell that sinus infection story again this year, is she?” “sigh… probably, Junior, prob.uh.lee…”)

Drunk and Disorderly

I took cold medicine this morning. Real cold medicine. Cold and Sinus +10, now with extra Stupid Sauce. I did so because of two things: I had a fever of 103.1, which I worried might actually cook what few gray cells I have left in my brain.

And, my sinuses were threatening to explode, enveloping the entire San Joaquin valley in a slimy mushroom cloud.

The cold medicine has not made what I would call significant improvements to my sinuses. The fever is way down, but the sinuses are still threatening mass destruction.

And now, I’m drunk.

Seriously. I’m falling-over, bleary-eyed, can’t-think-straight, think Loony Tunes are hysterically funny, bawling-over-Pepsi-commercials drunk.

I had to email my team and bow out of a day’s work today, because I realized after a few (ahem) interesting moments “working” that billing for my time today is the moral equivalent of walking into a branch with a gun and yelling, “PUT THE MONEY IN THE BAG!!!”

It would be robbery, pure and simple.

The honest, decent thing to do is let them know I’m too drunk on cough medicine sick to work, and take the rest of the day off. Or at least as much of the day as is required for this flip-flammin’ stuff to wear off so I can think straight.

I don’t wanna, because next week I’ve got three days off due to Thanksgiving, which is going to make for a very light paycheck as it is…and it will be the only paycheck between now and Christmas, and I was rather hoping to have, you know, more cash in the days leading up to the Festive Occasion so that I could do something wild and crazy, like maybe buy presents for my family.

{grumble! grouse!}

Eh, oh well. You know? It could be a lot worse. I could be getting this sick next week, for example. (Because nothing says “Happy Thanksgiving!” like the person serving up turkey sneezing Black Death all over it. Would you like extra germs with your gravy, mom…?)

Or I could have no paycheck at all.

Or I could have no cold medicine at all. I could be lying in bed gasping out my last, waiting for the Grim Reaper because I had no method to get my fever down, or because I couldn’t get my airways un-inflamed enough to breathe.

Lots of human beings have died that way, when something as simple as a danged aspirin might have saved them.

Me, I have cold medicine that does (all kvetching to the contrary aside) clear up my passages enough that I can get air into my lungs, and wrestled my fever down from ‘!!!’ to ‘!’…and in a little bit, I’ll truck on over to my doctor’s office where I will probably be given a prescription for antibiotics because it’s more and more likely that I don’t have a cold, but {GASP!} the flu (oh. the horror.)

I’m getting the cheap stuff, though. We already discussed this on the phone. None of that $106-a-pop stuff for this little chicken, ooooooh no. Give me the $6 pills, if you please! As long as they work eventually, I’m fine with that…

My doctor, he loves me. Seriously. How many doctors have patients they can have the following conversation with on the phone:

Him: You need to come in. Today.

Me: Wellllllllll…can’t we just, you know, phone it in?

Him: No. I need to see you in person before I can prescribe anything. Makes me feel important. Humor me. (I love this guy. He really does say things like that.)

Me: Ya know, people survive the flu without antibiotics all the time. It’s just the flu. I know it’s just the regular old flu. If it’s even the flu. It’s probably just a cold. Seriously? I think it’s just a cold. I can just wait it out. Never mind. I’m good. (He and I both know I’m actually resisting coming in because he’s going to want to do blood work and I have an unnatural fear of needles. The very thought of them makes me queasy. Ugh.)

Him: {heavy sigh} Just come in. If you have the flu, the antibiotics will cut not only your downtime, but reduce the chances you’ll give it to someone else.

Me: Welllllll, OK, I’ll come in – but if you’re going to give me antibiotics, I want Plain Old Pills, the ones that are six bucks for the whole course…not that hundred buck stuff you guys are prescribing for the kids right now.

Him: {REALLY heavy sigh} The newer stuff works up to two days faster, you know.

Me: Dude, it’s Friday. I don’t need to be better tomorrow, I’ve got until Monday!

Him: {pounds head on desk a few times to make the pain go away} OK. Whatever. Cheap stuff. Got it. Made a note. See you this afternoon.

Me: Okey-Dokey, Boss, see you in a couple hours!

Him: {begins sobbing quietly as he hangs up the phone}

See? He loves me. Especially when I then don’t take my medication on time or as prescribed or until gone, then storm in yelling that my symptoms came right back! What kind of hack business is he running here, anyway…?!

(Someday, that man is going to prescribe me cyanide and kill me dead. And there isn’t a jury in the world that will convict him for it, either.)

ANYWAY. Just another fun-filled day of excitement around here, huh? I’ve got a cold or the flu or something, there’s a storm brewing outside, the cat is snoring on the bed…it’s a never-ending rollercoaster of thrills, let-me-tell-you…

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Breakfast of champions…

My husband was home with a sick Boo Bug today (and yesterday), so he made dinner tonight: The time honored “breakfast for dinner,” which kids think is some kind of awesome treat and parents know is a desperate attempt to pretend everything is fine and they totally planned this.

…it’s not like they didn’t think about dinner until two minutes before it was supposed to served and only then realize that the Magic Dinner Elves were on strike and it wouldn’t be appearing on the table like magic, all by itself…

Then he turned to me and said, “Oh, by the way, we’re out of bread again. And cookies. And cheese.”

Because gracious knows, I can totally whip up a batch of Cheddar in the two hours between getting home from work and going to bed.


Anyway. Tomorrow, I will be staying home with the sick Boo Bug.

First of all, it’s kind of my turn.

Secondly, I too have a cold and it is rapidly developing to the stage where I can’t stop sneezing, coughing and yawning.

And third, I finally got the last pieces of the puzzle put together today, so I can actually work from home…which kind of blows holes in the whole, Wellllllll, but if I’m not onsite, how can I possibly work and earn money? argument.

So I guess I’m taking my first “floating” telecommute day tomorrow. SURPRISE! (I honestly thought she was going back to school tomorrow. She was fine last night, which led me to believe that today would be her 24-hour ‘symptom free’ period…but no, her sore throat and fever returned tonight, so! No school for the Boo tomorrow!)

Tonight I made sure I would be able to work tomorrow. I logged into the network, got the VPN connection working, tested my ability to ping servers, send and receive email, and most importantly write and execute scripts on the SQL Server.

Check, check and check.

Well. Allrighty then. I’m ready – I can stay home with the sick child (and my own sick self) but not lose an entire day’s pay doing so.

I don’t like to think about how much money I’ve lost through the years because I couldn’t do this – or how many jobs I’ve lost, come right down to it.

Of course, on the flip side…no more days off because I’m sick, unless I’m actually too sick to work. Which, let’s face it, is pretty darned rare.

Actually, I’m almost never too “sick” too work.

“Too hopped up on cold medication,” on the other hand…yeah. That can be a problem. I took some Dayquil yesterday? Holy crap.

FIRST OF ALL, “non-drowsy” my arse. About half an hour after I took those two bright yellow little dabs of sunshine, I was practically snoring. I was doing a constant head-bob thing. Doooooooozing of-HELLO! MY CHIN WASN'T HITTING MY CHEST, I'M WIDE AWAKE...doooooooooozing off again...

ALSO, it whacked me. My vision was weird. I swear, my eyeballs were actually crossing. I kept giggling. I would sit there listening to people in meetings and my mind was just wandering all over this weird little Dr. Seuss-like world inside my head.

I was, like, completely stoned.

On Dayquil.

This, dear readers, is why I will never be found pounding back random pharmaceuticals handed out by a friend at a party or some junk like that – I don’t need them.

Just give me a dose of Dayquil, and I’m good for hours.


I had a good laugh on myself tonight. All those years when I had no way to telecommute in times like these – when I would have given my front teeth to be able to do so. How many times did I find myself grousing that if only they’d let me, I could have finished this or that project, gotten this or that done, not lost an entire day’s wages because Baby was sick or daycare was closed or both…

Now I can. Precisely one (1) week after starting my new job, I can carry on a day’s work from right here, almost as though I were sitting over there instead.

This is how modern and with-it and accommodating my MegaBank has become.

And how great is my gratitude?

Well, it went something like this…

“OK, VPN is working fine…email is working fine…internal IM checks out…I can see the servers and the tables…test run of the SQL…OK. I…can totally work tomorrow, right from my home office!” {pause} “Damn. I could’ve used a day offline to {clean, plant, cook, shop, tend, nurture, etc.}.”

Heh. There’s just no pleasing some people, you know it?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Shrink Ray Spaghetti

I am a tad peeved tonight. I made spaghetti – “real” spaghetti, with store-bought spaghetti noodles. I’ve gotten pretty darned good at making homemade pasta when we’re talking about fettuccini-width or wider, but anything thinner is a tad advanced for my skill set at this point. (The last time I tried it, I ended up with weird globs of mushy stuff that resembled nothing edible this world has ever seen before. It was weird. Almost like ‘glass’ noodles, but…not…quite…) (I tried passing it off as a delicacy. I failed. So I made fettuccini instead and we ate dinner quite late that night.)

Oh, and for sauce, I’m totally cheating: Costco has these enormous tubs of basic tomato sauce for three bucks, right? It’s about forty pounds worth of tomatoes in each of those cans, boiled down to the right consistency for sauce but utterly lacking in, you know, flavor and character.

So! I take one of those big food-service sized cans, add my own garlic, onions and herbs from the garden and simmer it all together for an hour or so, then portion it out into four containers – one for that night, three to go into the freezer for other applications.

Next year, I’m hoping the micro-farm will provide enough tomatoes to lay down actual for-real homemade-from-scratchy-scratch sauce. But for this year, I’m grateful for the almost-free pass on it.

Now, given that I buy flour in bulk and such, it’s about impossible for store-bought pasta to be cheaper than what I make at home – it costs me about $0.27 a pound to make it.

BUT, I had a gift card and it was on sale and I said, “Won’t it be nice to make what the kids still consider to be ‘real’ spaghetti for a change! And without all the cleanup!”

Then I went to make it tonight and guess what? The grocery shrink ray totally got me. I assumed I was buying one-pound packages, because this is what I’m used to the packages being. One pound, or 500 grams (which is slightly over a pound), take your pick.

Not twelve ounces, which is four ounces shy of a pound, which means that when I dumped two packages of spaghetti noodles into the pot I wasn’t getting the 36 ounces that is enough for the family but rather 24 ounces which is not nearly enough.

Suddenly, the 2-for-$1 deal wasn’t so great.

And what have we (re)learned today, Tama?

Always, always check the price per unit, not per package. Especially in Times Like These, where bottom lines are being squeezed everywhere, just because a package looks about the same as it always has doesn’t mean it actually is the same size.


Meanwhile, it is quickly becoming all too clear that I am going to have to rethink how we’re handling dinner. Our timing is just a bit too tight, and too easily thrown completely off by even small things like a train being ten minutes slower than expected, or an email from a client we didn’t expect to hear from needing something now! we never thought they’d be interested in hearing about again, or a testy phone message from a medical provider who would very much appreciate receiving their three million and fifty bucks now, please.

…wait…didn’t we pay that? I’m pretty sure we did…hang on a second, how much? No, that’s not right, I’m sure that’s not right, but I’ll have to find the EOB on it…{three hours later} See! It so wasn’t three million and fifty!

It was five million and fifty…geesh, get your account right, people…!

While I’m frankly not feeling the love for putting together a once-a-month cooking day (both because I’m already feeling like every day has been an all-day cooking ordeal for, like, the last two months, and because of the recipes calling for things I’m really not feeling the joy of recreating from scratch SO I’ll probably end up just buying six packs of Cream of Something soup and forty-seven carrots [maybe even pre-diced from the freezer section] and a whack of bottles of sauces and oils and unguents because I am not going to try to figure out how to manufacture my own soy sauce right now thank you all the same), well…

It is the psycho-busy-frugal-cook’s best friend.

So…I’ll spend some quality time with the recipe books and weekly circulars for my local supermarkets and see what I can come up with to fill up that freezer with weeknight meals for now through the end of December – because ohmygah, people, is it sinking in for you guys that Thanksgiving is next week, which means Christmas decorating starts next weekend, which means that we are officially heading into the deadly skid of party-party-party-gift-gift-gift-obligatory-appearances-ho-ho-HOLY-CRAP-HOW-MUCH-DID-WE-JUST-SPEND-ON-ALL-THIS?!?!


I hate this part of the holidays. The pressure to be all things to all people in your life, in all the expected places (from Grandma's house to the office holiday party), lest they think you don't care about them can be a bit overwhelming, can't it?

Ah well. It's also a really joyous time, especially if you can let go of all that aforementioned garbage. We love, we laugh, we live, we go on...even if we burn the turkey, forget how to get to Aunt Maude's house and buy the nephew the absolute WRONGEST DS game ev-ah...

Hey all you people...I just ate a saaandwich, not an ORDINARY sandwich...

(Bonus points for recognizing the song reference in the title.)

This morning started with a slight temper tantrum. SEE, I got a crummy night's sleep due to my husband's Super Power - which is that he can sleep through anything, AND, in the unlikely event that Whatever It Was *did* wake him, he can go back to sleep practically instantly.

I do NOT have this Super Power. in fact, I have the exact opposite of Super Sleeping Powers. I have the "takes hours to fall asleep, can be wakened by the sound of a fly landing on a windowsill downstairs and then need two hours to get back to sleep" curse.

SO! My husband peacefully slept through his own nasty-cold-enhanced Super Snoring, which Dog my witness was so loud it set off earthquake monitors as far away as Bakersfield, and I...didn't.

Thus I was already cranky before I even got out of bed to discover that elves had once again failed to come in the night and undo the disasters all over the house...most especially the one in the kitchen.

I'm already barely clinging to any modicum of civility before that first cup of coffee - when I can't MAKE said cuppa Joe without drama, well.

It can get ugly PDQ.

But I got the coffee started and then I made myself a sandwich for lunch.

I was kind of pissy about the process. Stupid rolls were all lumpy-looking. Stupid roast beef bag was all greasy on the outside. Stupid ale-based mustard wasn't open yet, stupid packaging, stupid scissors stupid missing stupid would it KILL people to put the stupid tools back in their stupid place after use?!

(Oh yeah. I'm CHARMING first thing in the morning. And prone to throwing things. And cussing.)

So I cut the roll with a knife that didn't seem TOO dirty and used a different mustard because the scissors (all 417 pairs we own) were AWOL, and put roast beast on it and then put on my jacket, went into my front yard, in the dark, at Wicked O'Clock, to pick spinach for my sandwich.

Seriously, I wish I could hear my neighbor's thoughts sometimes.

Other times, I am sooooo grateful I CAN'T.

Then I snarled goodbye and headed for the office, leaving my sick husband home with the sick child for the day.

The coffee had already made a big difference in my attitude about Things by the time I got to my desk...but then, I ate my sandwich.

Folks...try adding that 7-grain to your next batch of bread.

You're welcome.

Also? Spinach you just picked a few hours ago has a crunchy sweetness that is hard to match, even compared to farmer's market fare.

It's going to be a grind, trying to keep all these balls in the air...but it'll be worth it.

I only wish I'd had time to make some chocolate pie last night, too.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Lane changes and leftovers

Tonight, 580 decided to kiss and make up. In spite of leaving the office a hair too late for comfort, we had pretty darned quick-moving traffic.

Mostly, this is because I was driving. No, seriously…see, my husband is one of those people who will get on the freeway (eventually), and then stay in the wrong slow lane for a while, then decide things aren’t moving well and that something is ‘obviously’ wrong up ahead, and then take some 600 mile “short cut” to get around the five miles of backup.

OK, it was only 60 miles.

Still. You can either put up with five miles of backup, or, you can take a (all kidding aside) thirty mile “short cut” through the hills and vales and valleys and dells and end up stuck behind a flatbed truck going fifteen miles an hour because he’s (quite reasonably, actually) spooked by being a large truck on a tiny, lightless country road in the middle of what appears to be nowhere and are we quite sure we’re still in California?!

This is how my husband “saves time” whenever the traffic is backed up on the freeway. Which is always, which is also why he will frequently come staggering in at 7:30 even though he left the office at 4:00. “The traffic was brutal, so I took the short cut…”


When I drive, the elapsed time between getting on the freeway and being in the fast lane is something like eight nanoseconds. No fooling around. No lollygagging. No ‘let’s see what the traffic is doing’ or ‘let’s wait to hear a traffic report.’ (Also, occasionally, a certain…ahem…shall we say effective use of our vehicle’s acceleration / maneuverability?)

And then, just because Life is perverse that way – the traffic will magically clear up so that I can turn to him and say, “SEE? It’s not that bad, you just hafta find the zen of the freeway…and get in the fast lane right away…”

In the same way, though, whenever we do have the rare circumstance where we are in two cars and the traffic is awful and he does his 400-mile-short-cut thing while I stick by the freeway…y’all know what happens, right?

He gets home in half an hour, while I’m sitting on the freeway waving a flashlight at the rescue helicopter that’s dropping food for all of us poor, stranded souls.

Because Life is really perverse that way.

ANYWAY. We got home in plenty of time for our divide-and-conquer approach to dinner. Tonight I had it easy in one way, but hard in another: Dinner was a very simple fridge-diving affair. I threw rice into the rice cooker (an appliance I scoffed at before I owned one [“what’s wrong with a danged pot with a cover? it was good enough for my momma, it’s good enough for me!”], but now can’t imagine life without), put some leftover roast beef into the microwave on ‘gentle cook’ to reheat, and dug through the fridge to pull out leftover corn, peas and carrots from other meals – my fridge tends to get awfully full of tiny Tupperware containers with not-quite-a-serving of various things, which can be a bit dangerous to combine due to my habit of deciding plain old butter or salt is “boring, let’s try paprika! Chili powder! What’s this stuff, I dunno, maybe it’s crab spice! LET’S TRY IT!”

Which is fine on its own, but if you throw together several things made several ways, the result can be…interesting in a bad way.

But fortunately, I had a streak of boring so all the vegetables had reasonably similar seasonings – no Cajun doing battle with Indian or BBQ sauce trying to conquer the soy.

The roast turned out really well yesterday. I kept it super-simple: I made a bed of sliced onions and carrots for the roast to sit on in the broiling pan, then mixed together a bottle of dark brown ale, some Worcestershire sauce and fresh cracked pepper. A little went into the bottom of the pan, and about a quarter cup was poured over the roast before it went into the oven – then throughout the roughly four hour roasting time, I’d baste it whenever the spirit moved me…technically every half hour but hahahahaha, yeah, party, people over, kids everywhere…sometimes every hour. Or so.

And then I got use my cool deli slicer thingee and wow…how did I ever live without one of these things?! It made beautiful thin slices perfect for sandwiches and quickly-warmed-up leftovers and I love it even though it’s a royal pain in the backside to clean up afterward.

Also, I’m terrified I’m going to stick a finger into the whirling blade of death, because trust me – I’m an expert at Stupid Maneuvers Like That.

I swear, I am the reason we have to have warning labels that say things like, “Warning: Do Not Stick Head Into Fan Blades.” Wow…on reflection, that WOULD be rather dangerous, wouldn’t it…

Meanwhile, my challenge for the evening was wedging a baking session into the mix. We used up the last of the bread this morning, so I needed to get something bread-like together for tomorrow or else.

When I first started mixing, I thought I was making regular old bread. But then it sort of changed on me, and I ended up making rolls.

I don’t know how these things happen. Really. One minute I’m making the standard bread recipe, the next…well.

I replaced about half a cup of the regular flour with Bob’s 7-Grain Hot Cereal, added an extra half-tablespoon of sugar and cut back the salt a smidge and instead of making two loaves of bread, I made eight sloppy-looking rolls.

Because I didn’t know I was making rolls until they were on the baking sheet and I was saying, “Oh. Apparently, I’m making rolls…”

I did have a couple sort-of reasons. One was that making rolls eliminated the second rise I like to have for sandwich bread. The other was that rolls take less time to bake, and since I have a cold I really want to go to bed sooner rather than later – less baking time meant a sooner bedtime.

And of course, this kind of “different” is something the Denizens will like in their lunches. It’s got a neat nutty flavor, but isn’t “too” whole wheat. (Because gracious, we wouldn’t want “healthy” bread, would we?!)

Should make an awfully good roast beef sandwich wrapper tomorrow – with some stone ground mustard, Swiss cheese and maybe some freshly-picked baby spinach…

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I had a dream…

No, really. A real one, you know, while asleep? A very vivid sort of dream, the kind where you wake up and swear you could actually feel, smell and taste what you were dreaming about.

It’s about the fourth time I’ve had it (with minor variations), but it still just tickles the heck out of me. It started a couple weeks ago, after I read a newspaper article about the mess left behind by pot growers – we’ve had a whack of people busted this last year after they grew insane amounts of cannabis inside their Central Valley homes.

Which is one way to keep it from being spotted from the air the way it usually is, I suppose.

Anyway. The article talked about things like ripped out appliances and altered walls (some knocked out to make more room, others added to hide rooms they didn’t want found, stuff like that), strange wiring and piping and all kinds of other debris you would (upon reflection, which I’d never paused for on this topic before this article threw it into my face) naturally expect to be left behind when someone is unexpectedly arrested for transforming an entire suburban dwelling into an indoor growing field.

Apparently, they even left behind the grow beds and lights…I mean, even upon reflection that kind of surprises me. I’d expect the police to impound that kind of stuff as Evidence, you know? "Yes, Your Honor, we’d like to direct the court’s attention to forty THOUSAND watts of growing lights, plus six acres worth of growing tables…"

Hard to say you weren’t up to anything in the face of something like that, right?

Whiiiiiich leads me to the new recurring dream I keep having…which is that I have rearranged the inside of the Den so that I can grow spring and summer vegetables in the dead of winter.

All four of the Denizens now slept in two bunk beds in the master bedroom, while their father and I took over what is now Captain Adventure’s bedroom – formerly the retreat off the master bedroom and thus not a “full” bedroom in size.

You can imagine what my husband’s joy would be, if I proposed we actually do this.

There was a path to the door, and a path into the kitchen – but the rest of the Den was transformed into fields of grow tables, with lights hanging above them and this insanely intricate watering system that siphoned water out of the spa (repurposed as our gray water tank).

I’d even moved the laundry equipment into a sort of lean-to right next to the spa, so that the washing machine’s hose just spat the water straight on in there. Genius!

I had these massive solar panels not only on the roof but over the driveway and even hanging from the limbs of the big tree in front of the house (the neighbors would love that, don’t you think?), which not only powered the lights but charged up these deep-cycle batteries that kept them going at night as well so we could get the “ideal” amount of light and warmth for the strawberries and corn.

Yes. Corn.

Growing inside the house.

Of course, what really cracks me up about this is the way I wake up and think, You KNOW…I COULD maybe put just one or two small grow beds in the front room…

I suspect I may be just a touch overly enthusiastic about the whole gardening thing, here.

Speaking of the garden…there isn’t a whole-whole lot going on out there right now. The colder weather has shown up, which when combined with the shorter days has resulted in the expected-but-still-somehow-disappointing slowing down of plant growth.

Although I did find a tiny little bud of future broccoli on the oldest of the sprouts, and the Brussels sprouts are starting to bud on the stalks.

So, we have that going for us.

I have a minor disaster in the Brussels sprouts, though – there were moths (I think they’re cabbage butterflies) (ack!) that found them very appealing nurseries, and holy smokes did they ever do a number on one of the six plants I have back there. It was a big, robust plant…now it is a shriveled little shell of its former self.

They’ve about killed it…and now they’re moving on to the survivors, with a murderous gleam in their buggy little eyes. They scoff at pepper spray and openly mock oily, soapy water.

However, they’re about to come face-to-face with a bottle of neem oil, bwa-hahahahaha. Hopefully, that’ll put an end to their reign of terror out there.

I planted more peas and green beans a couple weeks ago, and plan to put in another little plot of them today, plus a reseeding of the just-harvested bok choy and spinach beds…and that should be the last of the planting until February around here.

Except of course for things I start inside…you know, to get a jump on spring, when it gets here?

…just maybe one or two rooms little trays of things…

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Wow…new record on the flaking out there…

I didn’t make dinner last night at all. Which is darned shame, because it would have been pretty darned good – chicken pot pie with a citrus-scented gravy instead of the usual “country hearty” style. (My lemon tree is really putting out the lemons right now – they’re so sweet you can actually eat them, right off the tree!)

But, one of the things that are going to happen from time to time happened last night: We hit Traffic. Not merely, you know, the ordinary bumper-to-bumper stall-in-go from the Dublin BART station over the Altamont Pass…or even the equally usual Fun Friday! points added.

Friday is the worst day of the week for the commute. The problem is that we don’t have enough ways for people to get to other places around here – the 580 freeway is about the only way for people from the Bay Area to get just about anywhere they want to go.

Whether they want to head up to the mountains (skiing, water sports, sitting in the lodge sipping rum toddies while other people do those crazy things) or down to the pleasures of Los Angeles, visiting family in Colorado, whatever – they pretty well must take 580, or travel way out of their way to take 80 instead.

But 80 is just as packed so, you know, what do you buy yourself – nothing.

So Friday is already a bad commute day…but last night, somebody ran into somebody else at a really rotten time. (Which would be any time after noon on 580 East.)

We left the office at 4:10, and didn’t get to the babysitter’s house until 6:30, precisely…which was a minor miracle, since at 6:10 when I called to tell her we were coming as fast as we could but stuck in an Uber Backup, we were still a good twenty miles away and the traffic was just barely thinking about starting to break up.

When we got there, we found the Denizens cheerfully chowing down on chicken nuggets and French fries.

There are times when you just want to hug people. The way we’re working things now, my husband will drop me off at the house to start dinner while he goes to get the kids – then, when they all get home, it’s less than twenty minutes until food is on the table.

That’s only twenty minutes of the kids yapping and yammering about how “starving” they are. I don’t know what’s up with that lately, but it seems like all four of them are constantly hungry – and when they sit down and start eating, they’re actually packing away the food. Usually I can get away with preparing a meal for four and we’ll have leftovers – these days, I actually have to plan for six “adult sized” portions of food if I want to have any leftovers…which I generally do, because that’s how I get lunch the next day.

Anyway, I’m sitting there in the car with a nasty head cold clamping down on my sinuses, thinking, Great. And we have to go straight to the sitter’s because we’re LATE, and then when we get home it’ll be an HOUR before dinner is ready, and then we’re eating at eight o’clock and maybe I’ll just order in a pizza…

(I love pizza. I truly love pizza. I could eat pizza for breakfast, lunch and dinner pretty much forever and ever. And I don’t like my own homemade pizza that much – I like pizzeria pizza. I’ve never been able to replicate it at home. Oh, my pizza is OK, sure, but…the Real Deal, with that thin chewy crust, tangy sauce, double cheese, and…you know what? I’m going to shut up about it now, ‘kay?) (My parents got me hooked young, at a place then called Vince’s, now [watch out for sound on this link if you’re at work!] Gaspare’s…still there, still awesome the last time I went [which was WAY too long ago, and if I were a dutiful blogger I should totally go back and check them out again, you know, purely in the interest of science and accurate reviewing, because LORD FORBID, they might have gone way downhill in the couple years since I last went and I would hate to be passing along an inaccurate review…yeah…I totally need to arrange a trip to Gaspare’s, like, today, maybe…], if you’re in or around San Francisco, you should totally go.) (But don’t tell me about it. Especially if you get the one with the ground chicken, which I think was called Chicken Garibaldi?, because ohmygah, I can taste it right now, soooooo goooooooooood…) (Stop. Tama, seriously. STOP this madness, right now…)

ANYWAY. When I got home and the kids were sitting around the table making Happy Noises eating dinner, and she was all, “Wellll, I couldn’t very well feed my kids, but not them, too, you know? They were hungry and I knew you were in that traffic jam so…I hope you don’t mind that I…”

Do I mind? Seriously? Do I mind?

Honey, Angel, Best Choice In A Sitter EV-AH©, I could kiss you right now.

And if I didn’t have a nasty cold obviously starting its Reign of Terror in my system, I would have.

I’ll make the pot pie tonight instead. I’m kind of thinking “modified Hollandaise sauce” for the base gravy – something with that buttery-citrus flavor, but not quite as heavy as Hollandaise generally is. A little less butter, probably, and with the stock I just made adding more chicken punch to things.

It’ll either be awesome, or it will suck mightily. Kitchen adventures are often like that, you know? Something sounds good, but then between the idea and the end product there’s a…glitch or two.

Or there isn’t, and it’s perfect the very first time you try it.

We shall see how this one works out.

Tomorrow, I’ve got a 15 pound beef roast going into the oven.

Yes. Fifteen pounds. Our new Raley’s store had these beautiful beef sirloin roasts on sale for $1.77 a pound – the whole roast was only $26!

But actually, it cost me nothing, because I had a coupon from Raley’s where if you got a prescription filled they gave you a $50 gift card…thanks to Captain Adventure’s sinus infection, I had a new prescription!

So! I got the roast and some special treats for the family – crackers, yogurt and tortilla chips!

I was verrrrrrry popular around here for a while.

Anyway, tomorrow we’re having some folks over, so I’m going to roast most of it (and put what lean I do trim off to neaten the roast through the grinder for some fresh ground sirloin), and we’ll have a wonderful roast for lunch tomorrow…then I get to play with my new-to-me deli slicer and we’ll have roast beef sandwiches for lunch next week!

I’m so excited about that, I’m planning to make some crusty sandwich rolls to put it on.

(I also love roast beef sandwiches. Almost as much as I love pizza – and I get it almost as rarely, because I’m so danged cheap fiscally sensible (snort!) that whenever I see a $7-per-pound price tag on the raw ingredient, I get spooked and say, “What’s wrong with a nice slab of baloney, anyway?”)

I also may have to run back to Raley’s again this weekend, because I got another coupon from them where you get a free turkey with a $50 purchase – I could get two more of those big special-priced roasts and a free turkey! I wouldn’t try to freeze a roast that size as-is, but would slice one into smaller roasts and put the other through the grinder – at $1.77 a pound, it’s worth the effort.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The brand new usual

First things first: Captain Adventure is a new man. I have to say, that super-expensive antibiotic does indeed work better in fewer days than I’m used to Augmentin working.

Also, he likes it better…when I add a drop of food coloring to it. I think he hated the taste when his infection was in full-swing, but I noticed his protests yesterday were kind of…not real. Like he was protesting because he thought he should rather than because he really didn’t like the taste. Same thing this morning. So tonight, I added a small drop of red food coloring to it (it’s supposed to be strawberry flavored, but is a white liquid) and guess what?

He loves it. LOVES it! It’s delicious! It’s the best pink medicine ever!

Kids. Go figure.

ANYWAY. Today was my first day at the new job. This whole thing has been a lot like riding a bike after a few years away – full of false starts and “oh yeah, pedals” and “oh…right…don’t squeeze only the front brakes…”

The hardest part for me has been getting used to the concept that I’m going to be away from the Den most weekdays. Yesterday I kept thinking, No problem, I’ll do that tomorrow…oh wait… or Well, Friday I’ll…oh…no, no I won’t…

Before I got started this morning, I had some jitters. It’s been a while since I worked outside the confines of a firm, for one thing – I wasn’t an independent worker, I was a member of a consulting team. The client often didn’t even know my name, let alone my face, my individual skill sets or whether or not I was the one who pulled the rookie move of firing off that SELECT * FROM MASSIVE_TABLE query that locked down the database for six days.

Whoopsie. (Actually, that one wasn’t me…but I did pull one where I had an unhandled error buried deep in a convoluted whack of script that created a lovely never-ending loop because the IF never found its THEN…yeah…that one was fun to troubleshoot…)

ANYWAY. It didn’t take long before I was finding myself thinking, I know this…I really do…

Which was no real surprise because I’ve worked for this client, off and on, for a lot of years.

A lot of years.

Like, 23 of them.

Yeah. You might say we have a certain history, which means that when it comes to data structures, policies, acronyms and such…I have a certain advantage.

Largely because of my history with this client, I’ve also had a tendency to keep an eye on the news pertaining to the entire industry – which means I’m already aware of the merger in question, some of the more (ahem) interesting facets of it, and ways in which “my” company differs from the one they acquired.

So it wasn’t long before I was feeling like I had a pretty good handle on what was going on.

Which felt both weird, and very comfortable. Like I know exactly what we’re talking about but wait! Shouldn’t this be…you know…harder…to understand…?

It’s strange how these things can go. On the one hand, it’s very strange. Dropping the Denizens at the babysitter’s house in the morning…the eerie quiet of the commute, with nobody shrieking from the backseat, no little voices quarreling or singing or telling endless stories.

And there is a jolt that happens around 2:00, when my body-clock suddenly starts screaming, “Time for the first pickup!!”, but I don’t have to jump in the minivan and start charging off from Den to School 1, School 1 to School 2, School 2 back to School 1, then home-again-home-again-lickity-split to beat the bus…

My body doesn’t quite know what to do with the information that I don’t need to, you know…get moving. It got kind of hyper on me, then it got kind of lazy and wanted a nap, and then it said, “You know what would be good? Chocolate. Downstairs. Here. Let me draw you a map, because remember how we worked in this building back in 1999-2000 (different division, different floor, same building), and there was that little chocolate nook? Ya, still there – saw it on the way in…”

The biggest challenge I’m going to face at this gig isn’t going to be the database work. It’s going to be the part where my brain draws little maps from where I am to everything from cheap dim sum to expensive crepes, and then informs me that if I walk “briskly” I could totally hit most of them in a single lunch hour.

It’s a rough life, but somebody’s got to live it.

Then I came home and made dinner. Because nothing says “oh yeah, real life…” like coming home to a swarming horde of Denizens who walk through the door already yapping, “Starving! Starving! Starving! Starving!”

Which they always are, in spite of having eaten two snacks at the sitter’s house in the three hours they spend there after school.

I thought in the interest of keeping myself honest and to avoid a nightly call to the pizza delivery place public education, I’d try to post what I’m throwing together for dinner around here on these working evenings. I don’t guarantee I’ll always make it, because you know what? I’m tired, and it’s getting late, and tomorrow is coming like a speeding locomotive. I suspect I’ll be awfully good about it Monday, with severe faltering by Wednesday and flat-out “can’t…tired…bed now…post later…” by Friday.

But I’ll give it a college try, anyway.

So! Tonight, we had lemon butter baked chicken, mashed potatoes and a bok choy stir fry. The spuds came from the farmer’s market a couple weeks ago (and really needed to be used), but the bok choy came from our own backyard – along with the garlic and lemon juice.

In other news, it’s amazing how “too much” of something like bok choy or spinach ends up being far less impressive after being cooked. I harvested that mini-field of bok choy and thought, Wow, I hope we can use all this before it goes bad… and then tonight it was, Oh…wow…I hope there’s enough for all of us…

Thanks to the Denizens distrust of anything green and leafy, there was plenty.

For me, anyway.

Here’s the recipes…if they can be called recipes, when really this was just me throwing stuff in the general direction of the heating implements and hoping for the best.

Lemon-butter baked chicken

1 whole chicken, cut into eight serving pieces, skins on (just trust me – you can peel them off later if you loathe them)
~1 tablespoon lemon juice
8 small pats butter, smooshed kind of flat
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Arrange the chicken pieces skin-up in a 13x9 baking dish. Sprinkle lemon juice evenly over the top, then add salt and pepper to taste. Take the smooshed butter pats and smear them under the skin of the chicken. (I believe the original recipe I’m sort of basing this on had you mixing in the lemon juice with the butter, blah blah blah – this works just fine and takes less time.)

The butter not only adds flavor and tenderness, but buys you a free pass. Technically, you “should” baste every ten minutes with the pan juices, but, uh, well. Distractions happen, and the butter will help prevent this from becoming a tragedy.

Put in the oven for 20-30 minutes, until you’ve got cooked chicken – the breasts will tend to cook faster than the legs and thighs, so be ready to pull the breasts out and keep them warm while those thicker pieces finish up.

Mashed Potatoes

Super basic recipe here.

6 medium potatoes
1-3 cloves garlic (if you like)
Pot of water
1/4 cup butter /margarine
1/4 cup milk (more or less to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste

Fill a pot large enough to hold all your potatoes with water and set it over high heat to start heating. Peel and quarter the potatoes (unless they’re huge, in which case, uh, six-tize them – the goal is even-sized pieces that will cook relatively quickly), and drop them on into the heating water. I haven’t found any significant difference in quality between waiting patiently for the water to be all-the-way boiling or dropping them in while you can still do it with your bare hand, so in the interest of saving time I just heave ‘em in as soon as they’re cut. If you want garlic, go ahead and put it on in there as well.

Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and ignore for fifteen to twenty minutes. When you jab one with a fork and it breaks apart without a fight, they’re ready. Drain, remove the garlic if you prefer a “hint” rather than a “strong presence” of garlic, add the butter and milk, and mash away – with a potato masher or with your electric mixer. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Gingery Bok Choy

~ 1 tablespoon oil
2-3 cloves minced garlic
2 teaspoons fresh minced ginger, or 1/8 teaspoon dried powdered ginger
4 cups washed bok choy, coarsely chopped
~ 1/4 cup water

Heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until mellow and golden brown. Add the ginger and heat until fragrant, then raise the heat, add the bok choy and the water. There will be a burst of steam, and the bok choy will almost instantly go from 4 HUGE cups to “ohmygawd…is that enough for four people?!”

There is a technicality with bok choy you might want to observe: The white cores take a little longer to cook than the leafy green parts. Some people discard the white parts, which is a crying shame – I think it’s better to simply separate them when chopping, and sauté the white parts with the garlic. That also mellows the “extra” bitterness that can sometimes make an appearance in that part of the bok choy, especially if it’s fully mature like mine was tonight. (I couldn’t bear to harvest them for a while…they were just so cute…)

The total time to get this from fridge to plate was about 40 minutes.

But wait…one more thing…

After I’d cut the chicken into serving pieces, I put the carcass (still pretty heavily loaded with meat) into the crock pot along with an onion, more garlic, some dilapidated celery and a carrot from the bottom of the crisper, added water to cover, and set it on ‘low’ to start making some stock; I’ll also be reclaiming the meat from those bones, adding it to the leftover meat from dinner tonight and using it for tomorrow’s dinner.

Which I’ll tell you about tomorrow, if I can stay awake long enough.

Try to contain your excitement…

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

This blog has been temporarily hijacked

By a sinus infection.

Not mine – Captain Adventure’s.

It’s a doozy, been going on probably most of the weekend (which is just one of the many ways speech delays suck – they tend to lead to things getting really out of hand before the non-verbal cues are dramatic enough for the caregiver to go, “Waitasecond…maybe this isn’t just an average, every-day sort of sniffle!”), and he is now uncomfortable, feverish, blocked up and runny, has a nasty cough (probably due to excesses of nasal ick taking the next best way out, since the first best way is thoroughly blocked off), AND (because insult loves injury) being forced to consume massive quantities ohmyGAH do you people not know my stomach is only the size of my wee little fist?! two teaspoons daily of an antibiotic that stinks, sucks and is otherwise NOT yummy.

My poor baby is not a happy camper right now. Thus, he is clinging to me whining, crying, complaining and saying, “Wet me sitz in yer WAP!” any time he somehow finds himself not sitting on my lap.

Not exactly conducive to writing.

Or thinking.

Or pretty much anything other than cuddling the sick-ee and saying inane things like, “There, there…poor baby…this really stinks, huh? OK…OK…there, there…”

Why this seems to be comforting to him I’ll never know.

Right. I’m going to grab a shower now, because if last night is any indication – he’ll be hollering for me within forty-five minutes.


C’mon, antibiotics…work…!

Saturday, November 07, 2009

I really am amazed

I went to the mall this morning.

I'll give you a second to get over the shock.

SEE, I had a coupon for 15% off at JcPennys, and they had sent me this thing in the paper saying they had ‘door buster’ deals and according to the terms on my coupon I would get the 15% off “in-store” things which meant that I would get the 15% off the 60% off the stuff, plus they had a tiered $X off $Y purchase, blah blah blah…

Well. I fully expected that somehow, some way, I would end up paying a lot more for clothes. You know, the 15% wouldn’t count on this, or that, or this, and anything “good” wouldn’t be part of the 60% off thing and so forth and so on.

I’m already suspicious of their motives when they give me a time limit – shop from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. only!

But, I’m desperate. I start work next week (either Tuesday or Thursday, it depends on when my paperwork finally fully clears), and I have only one (1) pair of office-worthy pants…and I wore them for my interview. While I’m not 100% certain anybody would actually notice that, I’m pretty sure it would be noticed if I wore the same one pair of pants and same two (2) shirts all week, every week, until such time as I got around to shopping.

Depressed by the utter failure of our local thrift stores to cover my back (literally) (or hips, or thighs, or any other part of me my new coworkers would really prefer I kept covered), I girded my loins and took my budget in cash to prevent any accidental craziness and braved the lion’s den, my 15% coupon held before me like a shield.

Holy. Smokes.

I got such good prices on things today that it felt…vaguely…sinful.

When I’d taken the girls shopping a couple weeks ago, they’d wanted these cute, cozy little chenille-like sweaters. They were adorable and warm and I’d thought they would be a great addition to the cold-weather wardrobes around here – but they were $29.99 each.

Naturally, I’d gone to Plan K: I will Knit you something with stash yarn, darling. (And it should be ready for you to wear right before you head off to college!)

By the time all the various discounts were applied, they were $7. Seven. Bucks.

I found a couple work shirts on the “we really mean it, LAST-last chance!” rack. By the time they’d applied all the 60% here and 15% there and last-LAST chance discount…I paid $2 for each of them.

And I got a pair of $65 jeans (which are not ‘jeans’ in my humble opinion, as they are obviously designed to be “fashionable” which to me is a terrible oxymoron…jeans are working clothes to me, but what do I know about anything, I’m wearing a t-shirt with screaming ears of corn watching popcorn in a microwave with the caption “HORROR MOVIE” emblazoned across it. I don’t think I’m the one to turn to for advice around what is or is not fashionable, yo) for $12.

Which is $2 less than a pair of used jeans at the Goodwill right now, which is ridiculous and likely to lead to a twenty-seven page rant about when the HECK Goodwill decided $14 was the right price for a pair of used jeans…so let’s just keep talking about the great experience at the mall today, shall we?

Normally, I leave the mall angry and empty-handed. I walk out muttering things like, “Not paying that for that!” and comparing the prices at the thrift store and even saying things like, “I don’t care if has a little stain or needs new buttons or is a little worn at the elbows! At least it didn’t cost no $RIDICULOUS_DOLLAR_AMT!”

I walked out of there today like a skinny female Santa, with a huge, heavy bag slung over my shoulder.

And it was like Christmas around here as I took everything out. The girls kept shrieking. Oh, I WANTED that! Eeeeee, you got the red one! Oooooooh, whose is THAT? Is that MINE? Oh. It’s hers. Can I borrow it?!

I’m really stunned. I got a tremendous amount of good stuff today – and it didn’t cost more than the thrift store.

A few of the things actually cost less.

Which is probably more of a commentary on how much prices have gone up at the thrift stores lately than how low the department store prices really are…like I said, our Goodwill started charging $14 for a pair of women’s jeans not long ago. It absolutely sears my soul because they don’t even make allowances for things like stained up / banged up / holier than the Bible / so out of fashion it makes pre-teen’s eyes bleed…every pair of jeans, $14.

At least the hospice thrift has a sliding scale. You can still get a pair of basic work jeans for $6 over there, and only the fancier / nicer ones will be up in the $14 to $20 range.

But I digress. Which is no surprise because I feel as though the world tipped upside down here. I took $200 cash to that mall, and I still have $40 of it – and I got two dresses, twelve shirts, three sweaters and two pairs of jeans for the Denizens, plus five work shirts, five pairs of pants [two slacks, two corduroy, one ‘fashionable’ pair of jeans] for me, and a full set of towels for the kids’ bathroom – four bath towels, four hand towels, and four washcloths.

Holy crap. And they’re brand new! No stains, no missing buttons, no need for hemming, tucking, trimming off loose threads or anything else. When I saw something cute in a size 14, I dug around and found glory be!, the same thing in a 6! It’s a miracle!


I can almost see the appeal of shopping at the mall. From 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Door Buster Saturday, anyway. (You still can’t pay me enough to face Black Friday, though. There is no sale good enough to get me out of the Den on Black Friday. I won’t even go out for food on Black Friday. If we have no food on Black Friday [which is, you know, so never going to happen], well, a one-day fast is good for the soul.) (You can, however, talk me into Internet shopping on Black Friday. Oh my goodness yes you can…in my sweat pants, with a homemade dark chocolate mocha in my greedy little fist and a carefully organized list of stuff I’d like to pawn off on people for Christmas in hand…)

Now if there were just a way to go to the mall without being stepped on, pushed, leaned on, coughed upon or shoved by my fellow shoppers, I might actually hang out there a bit more.

From 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 on Door Buster Saturday, anyway.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Stormy weather...

I've been up to my elbows all day today in such FASCINATING pursuits as cleaning out my closet and trying to simultaneously bake and clean the kitchen - that's gone exactly as well as you're all expecting it did.

It looks like a flour truck drove through here.

I was doing fine up until about two hours ago, when suddenly my energy level just went, "Pbbbbbbbth!" and I kept catching myself just sitting staring at something, thinking hard about such important things as jobs I had in the 80s and storylines for fiction novels I plan to get around to writing someday.

The last time, I was sitting on one of the bedroom ladder's steps (uh...yeah, when you line your bedroom with floor-to-twenty-foot-ceiling bookshelves, you do actually have a "bedroom ladder") staring at a massive bag of clothes that are going off to someone else...and the vast empty space where there should be "things I could wear to the office."

Even with this being a "jeans OK" place, well...the jeans can't be ripped, stained, dyed, or have knees that have the old backyard farm permanently ground into them.

Whiiiiiich pretty well eliminates ALL my jeans. Feh.

I sat there staring at the big bag of clothes, coming to grips with a painful truth: I have to go shopping.

For clothes.

Oooooh, GOODY.

I thought it was the very idea of shopping that had sucked the will to live out of me...until I emerged from the darkness of the closet into...the darkess of a big, rainy-looking cloud front.

Oh. I see. Even in the closet, some part of me KNEW it was fixin' to rain, and issued orders to curl up someplace warm and wait it out.

Oh well. Can't fight Nature, I always say! So instead of any more cleaning or (ugh) shopping, guess I'd better make some coffee and curl up on the couch, huh?!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Debt and Dieting

You know…reducing debt and dieting are an awful lot alike. First of all, they both stink. They’re both about as much fun as a root canal. They both are things that you’d really rather not do.

And, as much as we don’t like to think about this because after all, nothing is our fault anymore because we are all perfectly OK just the way we are and all…what we’re having to do is deal with the fallout from our own failings.

We don’t generally wake up one morning and find that we were mugged by the Fat Gang – we generally get there one too-big meal at a time. (At least, that was how I got myself there…sure, I used child-making and mommyhood as an excuse, but push come to shove I put on those 70 extra pounds one extra-large slice of pie at a time. The Denizens didn’t do it to me – I did it to me. Which stings and I hate it so let’s move on, shall we?)

Likewise, debt tends to arrive one bad decision at a time. Something happens. You’re in mid-remodel and a contractor says, “Uh…ma’am? Can you come here and look at this with me for a second?” (That’s not something you want to hear.)

$8,500 later, the problem is fixed. But it lives on in our hearts, minds and checking account balance!

Or you suddenly realize your two year old isn’t just a slow bloomer with the talking thing…there’s something wrong. He doesn’t just not-talk, he doesn’t communicate. He doesn’t point, he doesn’t grunt, he doesn’t make any attempt to inform you of his wants and needs…he’s just…well, he’s like a really big newborn, really. He yells when he wants something, and you get to figure it out with no verbal or physical cues to speak of.

That was a nearly $30,000, two year odyssey. Good times! (I’d feel better about it if any of that expensive stuff had actually done anything…the best results have come from simply following the advice of his pediatrician [which seven times out of ten was to NOT take him for the tests, therapies and treatments I insisted on doing anyway], and the school’s speech, behavioral and occupational therapists. Sigh. Oh well. The coffee was really good at the $595-per-session “emotional attunement” therapist’s office, anyway…) (Yeah. $595 cup of coffee, right there…SIGH…)

ANYWAY. There’s something else debt and diets have in common: There are thousands of books, groups, methods, and gurus out there to tell you how to go about it.

Each one will tell you that this, right here, is the One True Way. This way, and no other, is The Way. You will lose the weight if you follow my twelve easy steps. You will be out of debt if you follow my bouncing ball.

Do this. Don’t do that. Eat this. Don’t eat that.

Have you ever noticed that each way has both supporters and detractors? One side eagerly spreading the Gospel According to $GURU, the other side just as eager to explain how $GURU didn’t work for them one little bit, and they actually ended up worse off, and it’s all a big scam?

That’s another thing debt and dieting have in common: Every individual has to find what will work for them, a plan that motivates them and keeps them motivated…because yet another thing they have in common is that they are seldom “quick fix” situations. It took time to get into this mess, it takes time to get out of it; the way in was usually quite easy, but the path out is steep and hard.

So, what got me on this particular rampage? Well. In response to my Monday post, Anonymous mentioned that Dave Ramsey advises people to pay the lowest dollar-value line off first, regardless of interest rate, for the psychological boost and to free up more minimum payment money faster.

I read that comment about three times and then shrieked, “Whaaaaaaaat?! That’s crazy! That’s just stupid! That’s like saying, ‘You should eat the cake first, because then you’ll feel fuller and won’t eat as much dinner!’”

But then I settled down and reminded myself that personal finance is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. The reason there are so many advisors out there proposing that you do this, or that, or the other is that lots of things can, and do, work…and what works for me won’t automatically work for anybody else…no matter how sure I am that my way is THE One True Way. (Accept no substitutes!)

I am very numbers-oriented. I don’t see little individual bits of the puzzle – I look at bottom lines, at total costs and benefits. So when he says “pay off the smallest line first, regardless of interest rate,” it immediately raises hives on my psyche. Whaaaaaaaaaaaat?! Are you NUTS, Dave? That buys you NOTHING, and costs you MUCH!

And then, because I am all numbers-oriented and some junk, I ran some scenarios through my debt reduction planner. I’ve got all our debts in here, regardless of their “good, bad or indifferent” status – we’re sick to death of all of them and don’t care that we get $0.27 of every dollar we spend on mortgage interest kicked back on our taxes. We’d rather keep the other $0.73 in our pockets, thank-you-very-much and hey! Here’s an idea! If we don’t have to pay the mortgage, we don’t have to earn as much money…if we don’t earn as much money, we don’t pay as much in taxes! Problem solved!

Anyway. Right. So. We’ve got a mix of credit cards, home loans, auto loan, medical obligations (oy) and a lovely chunk being paid to the IRS.

Left alone, paying just the minimum / fixed payments, we’re looking at being debt-free around January 2038, at a total cost (interest paid, in other words) of roughly $453,000. (Yes, three zeroes.) (See, this is the stuff people hate to look at, and this is also why Dave’s plan works well for a lot of people – interest is hard to look at, therefore paying less interest isn’t as appealing to most people as simply paying something off is.)

Simply putting them in interest-rate order, fixing the payments as they currently are and snowballing as each is paid off (adding the payment from the paid-off to the highest interest debt), we’re debt free in December 2018 at a total cost of about $156,000. (Dedicating all of my net income [after childcare and commute], we are debt free in August 2013, for only $59,350 in interest. WOOT!)

Using Dave’s method, we hit the same December 2018 debt-free date, and pay $164,000 in interest…so it will cost us an extra $8,000 in interest and not get us out of the morass even one month sooner.

UNLESS, of course, we gave up and went shopping because we got so frustrated by the apparent lack of progress.

In which case, Dave’s method would have kicked butt.

Whiiiiiiiiich brings me (at long last) to my point: There are lots of plans out there. Just about any of them can work – whether or not they will depends on how well they fit in with your personal style.

There has to be a ker-chunk! when the plan comes into your life. If it doesn’t click-n-stick, it doesn’t have a prayer of working.

There’s just one thing I will categorically say to steer clear of if you’re in the market for some help with your debts, or your personal finances in general: People who get paid if they sell you a specific method.

There is nothing wrong with getting a professional to help you. A certified financial planner is not just for the rich and famous, or to deal with extraordinary situations like “my uncle just died and left me a bazillion dollars…and a cat…”, and they can be of tremendous help with such mundane things as figuring out a budget, dealing with debts, planning for college or retirement, and so on and so forth.

But do watch out for the guy who works for, OK? Watch out for the online “friend” who directs you to a sure-fire plan which s/he will gladly send you for one low-low payment of $49.95.

Or even $12.95.

Be suspicious. Ask uncomfortable questions. When the “really great guy” who works for the loan company tells you that this home equity line will cure all your ills and make all your “bad” debt go bye-bye…don’t automatically believe him. Don’t look at the payment and say, “Hey! It’s less than we’re paying now! SOLD!”

Ask yourself what s/he’s getting out of this, and whether or not that matters. They’re not automatically bad people because they make a living by selling you a specific loan, and the loan is not automatically a bad loan because it’s being offered to you by someone who only pays their bills if you take it – I’m just saying a little extra caution is in order.

Think the whole thing through. Ask the uncomfortable questions of yourself, too. What does this really fix? Does it solve the problem, or merely delay the inevitable? Moving debts around to make them easier to bear isn’t necessarily the best idea, even for someone like me who likes to pay the absolute least amount of interest humanly possible.

It’s like taking pain pills. You might feel great, but the underlying problem is still there – and might be getting worse. You’re not feeling the pain so much, so you think everything is groovy…but in actuality, you’re getting into more and more trouble every minute.

If you’re staring down the barrels of a debt-cannon, I know this stuff is overwhelming. Right now, more people than ever are teetering on the edge; more people are hitting the wall faster and harder than at any other time in my memory. Between job losses, credit lines being slashed, and the overall mad rush on the part of the creditors to slam us with higher rates, lower lines, increased payments and so forth and so on before Congress makes it illegal – well.

A lot of people are being forced to deal with a credit-free-except-you-gotta-keep-paying-it-off reality literally overnight.

It sucks, but there’s a lot of help out there. If you’re reading this, you are aware of a little thing we have called The Internet, right? Google ‘how to get out of debt.’ Read-read-read. Don’t jump onto the first bandwagon that comes along – think about it. Ask yourself if the plan makes sense to you. Does it feel right to you, does it make you sit up straighter and say, “Yes! I could do that!”

If something promises that The Solution can be yours, just click here and for $129.95 they will send you the five easy steps to financial freedom…please…say, “Pass!”

And if you don’t find the answer on your own and really want somebody to just tell it to you already!, take that money to the office of a financial planner instead (check out Wiser Advisor to get started finding one) (by the way, you shouldn’t pay a dime to interview them and you have every right to do so – again, this is very personal and you want someone you feel is going to work well both with and for you).

It may cost $50 an hour for that person to go over your financial situation with you, and it make indeed take two or three or even four hours – but you should get what you really need, which is a plan tailored to you, that fits not merely your financial situation but your personal style.

A plan you’ll be able to stick to…which is going to be the only plan that will work.

(I lost the weight using old-fashioned calorie, fats and portion-size control, along with thirty minutes of exercise a day [brisk walking plus stretching] whether I technically had time to or not. Nothing fancy, no rules or exchanges or points or anything else. It sucked. I hated every second of it. Still do, sometimes. But, I’ve been within my ideal range for six years now, so I’m OK with “just” one scoop of ice cream or a half-slice of pie. The smaller portion still tastes good, but doesn’t leave extra gifts behind on my hips.) (The hardest part is actually the exercise. Gah. I hate exercise-as-such. But the gardening is really helping with that – it’s not exercise, see, because it has a point. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

Monday, November 02, 2009

Money Monday: November 2, 2009

Why do we work?

Most of the time, I suspect this question is asked as a rhetorical protest against the evils of the early morning alarm. Gaaaaaah, why?! Why do I DO this to myself? Unnnnnngh…don’t WANNA work…

And then we drag ourselves out of bed, pull on our battle raiment and head for the battlefields for yet another day of slugging it out with the world.

I’m one of those people who feels that life is work – that work is, in fact, kind of the point of things. What we do with our time is kind of, you know, what this life’s experience is all about for us.

Things haven’t really changed as much as we think they have. Oh sure, they’re faster and sleeker and smarter and come in a much wider variety of colors and all, but what does it all boil down to in the end?

Most of us work to keep ourselves in food, shelter and clothing; it is only a happy few who get to work because they merely want to work, because it makes them feel fulfilled or gives them some other emotional high.

Most of us work because we’ve got to, in order to keep body and soul together.

I’m stating the obvious here because I’m having a big problem with myself right now.

I need to work right now because we are up to about our knees in debt; arguably, it’s actually up to the waist at this point.

Over the last two years, we’ve had more crises than we had cash to cover them, and then with the last year of “eh” income we really got way out into the weeds on that.

And of course, the further into debt you go, the harder it is to cover everything on one income – and if you’re getting into debt because the one income can’t cover everything that comes up in an average year, well, what’s going to happen when you start adding debt payments to the pile?

Uh-huh. Suddenly a “good” month is one where you cover everything without using a credit card, and a “bad” one isn’t just that you slipped slightly further into debt, but that you took a major header down the Cliff o’Debt.

An average one sees you sliding by “just a little bit.”

And it is only on the GREAT! months that you take things the other way. Yippee, I actually made headway!…and then two months later…@^*&@ it, what do you MEAN it’ll cost $500 to fix that! Wellllllll…I don’t know…honey, how long do YOU think we can go without running water?…

So for me specifically, the answer right now to the question why do you work is very simple: So that I can take a backhoe to the debt pile, clear as much of it away as humanly possible and get us back to a situation where either one of us can, with one (1) paycheck, keep this household in food, clothing, shelter, and entertainment without a whole lot of drama.

Back to where we have enough, plus a little bit extra.

I’ve been going over what stays and what goes on my homesteading experiment. My first instinct was to say “Everything goes!” because I’m tired even thinking about commuting my time is about to become a lot more precious – and let’s face it, that’s what made things like boxed crackers and prefab meals so appealing to the human race in the first place.

When your time becomes a scarce resource, it automatically becomes more valuable…but throw a dollar value on it and suddenly all sorts of things become “more cost effective” to just buy rather than do yourself.

BUT. I am not working so that I can pay someone else to do things for me. I’m not working to support an entire ecosystem of gardeners and maid services and giant factories that belch out an endless supply of crackers, snack cakes and frozen sandwiches with their crusts already cut off. (I still hate that those things even exist. I’m not saying it’s a rational or even a fair loathing, but those Uncrustable things just give me the heebie-jeebies.) (Worse even than the Lunchable thing. “Hey moms! We’ll give you $0.65 worth of crackers and meat-like-product, and charge you $2.00 because we’ve put them into a bright yellow box and neatly organized them in plastic trays! Or, for another buck, we’ll throw in a fifty-cent pouch of juice-like liquid! What a deal!”) (But I digress.) (Sort of.)

A lot of times, those of us with two incomes get into what’s called the ‘two income trap.’ We acquire obligations, either debts or lifestyle, that eat up the entirety of both paychecks…and then we say, “I sure wish I didn’t have to work {this hard, this long, at this soul-sucking place}, that I could take more time for something else, but of course I can’t – we need every penny I earn to pay all the bills.”

If I start using my paycheck to pay for things like convenience foods, new clothes, vacations and all the other So Forth and So On our wonderful, entertainment-oriented society puts out there for my idle amusement, we’re quickly going to find ourselves backed into a corner where we need that paycheck, desperately, to keep the bills paid and our lifestyle what we’ve expanded it to be.

I don’t want to do that. We’ve already proven (time and again), that we don’t need that stuff to be happy – what we need is stability, and the freedom to make choices.

So, I’m going to be doing my best to make sure my paycheck doesn’t go into “stuff,” but stays firmly targeted against those debts – every debt I get rid of brings our monthly needs down, which returns that much more choice to us.

Whiiiiiich means that my homesteading experiment is still on…even if I do suspect that I’m more than a bit crazy for even thinking about attempting it. The only slack I’m cutting myself is that I’m not going to try to add anything new for a while, until I’ve adjusted to the new schedule and gotten some kind of groove on.

To reduce the temptation to decide things are “emergencies” based on the balance in the checking account rather than their actual urgency, I’ve set up my paycheck (when I’ve finally actually got one) (by the way, it is sooooooo hard not to spend the paycheck I don’t have yet right now) to go into a separate account rather than dumping it into the same pot with my husband’s paycheck. That secondary account will pay for three things, and three things only: Our childcare provider, my train tickets, and to make payments on whichever debt is currently at the top of the snowball list. (If you don’t know what a snowball is, scroll to the bottom of the post – I’ll explain it down there.)

For everything else, all the other bills and groceries and so forth and so on, we’re still operating on just my husband’s paycheck. I’ll still have the same tight budget, which will mean I’ll have to operate with the same (ahem) creative solutions for a while…but here’s the sweet bit: Each time my paycheck takes over paying a bill?

That bill’s payment stops coming from my husband’s paycheck, and can go back into the household instead.

It won’t be long before I’ve got the same budget I used to have for groceries and such…and not long after that, we should start seeing that we are once again consistently living below our means.

At that point, we should start automatically building up some savings – which both cushions us against the inevitable Stuff Happens that life likes to throw at us (oh, that funny swooshing noise was my brakes going out, you say?), and starts to give us back our choices.

I can’t wait for those choices.

I also can’t wait for my garden to start really producing. We’ve got a lot of slow-growing winter vegetables out there right now, and the peas got pissy because first we had a heat wave (they don’t like heat) and then a violent wind storm (they don’t like violence, either) – but now they’re suddenly getting their legs and growing vigorously and putting out pod after pod of sweet promise.

The green beans are starting to grow, too. They’re sooooooo cute! Wee little tiny green beans, awwwwwwww!

Also, green bean blossoms are just as sweet at pea blossoms.
Bean Blossom
Aren’t I the cutest thing ever? Yes, you know you want to kiss me and tell me how cute I am! I rival the tiniest babies in Cute Factor, it’s true! How about if I wave a bit in the breeze, give you a REAL treat…

The carrots are not impressed by the cuteness of the green beans. Actually, they’re kind of like teenagers that way.

Unimpressed carrot

Ya, whatever, cute little green bean blossoms…if you need me, I’ll be here in my room sulking and not growing by so much as a centimeter no matter how much you feed me because I’m a grouchy old carrot and I take something like 1,200 days to get big enough to harvest…whatEVER…

What the heck is a ‘snowball’?

The ‘snowball’ method is one of the most popular methods of getting rid of debt. It gets you out of debt fastest, and at the least possible out of pocket cost to you.

First, you take all the debts you want to be rid of – for most of us this would be “all” your debts, but sometimes people set out home and auto loans, loans to family, student loans and the like. (This time around, I’m not doing that – the minivan and home equity and mortgage loans are going into the pot like any other obligation. So there.) (Easier for me to say, since my mortgage interest rate puts it very near the bottom of the list.)

Next, you put the debts in order – highest rate of interest on top, lowest at the bottom.

The debt at the top of the list is the one you focus on first. Everybody else gets minimum payments while you blast away at that most expensive debt, sending it every spare cent you can – remember, focus on the interest, not the payment. What you pay in interest is the true cost of the debt, not the payment. This method works best because it eliminates the most expensive debt first, saving you the most money overall.

When that first debt is paid off, you move on to the next debt – but you roll the payment from the first debt into the payment on the second, and that’s what you send now to Debt #2.

That’s where it gets the name “snowball” – because like a snowball, the further you roll with this, the more mass you pick up. It takes some mental discipline, but hey, look, you’re making those payments now, right? Right. So, instead of spending the payment on fritter-and-fratter, you add it to the next payment in line and keep blasting away.

Soon, that little snowball is an avalanche and your creditors will never know what hit them! Woo hoo, debt free!