Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Nearing a new project

Got through the heel flap, turned the heel and halfway through the gusset pick-up on the ride in this morning. With luck, I'll finish this second sock after my surgery tomorrow and be on to the next project.

Funny how that "second sock" syndrome works, huh? BORED NOW! Want new project...socks, and sleeves, do it to me almost every time...

(sent from my Treo)

Memo to me...

Dear Me:

Spending half an hour fiddling with a playlist in iTunes to get the "perfect" mix for the commute doesn't do you a whole lot of good if you forget to sync your iPod.

Please keep this in mind in future.


p.s.: Idiot.

(sent from my Treo)

Gee, why are they staring at me?!

So I went to the dollar store a couple weeks ago to pick up some of the endless streams of stuff you find yourself picking up when your kids are in school. “Could each student bring in fifty pencils? And four boxes of Kleenex? And fifteen pads of paper? And…?”

The mission this week being stuff like plastic tablecloths and clothespins, I hit up the dollar store. Your source of probably fatally-flawed but extremely cheap clothespins that, while they couldn’t possibly hold up a single cotton t-shirt on a clothesline, will do just fine for whatever craft project your first grade teacher has in mind. Plus you get 200 of them for a dollar. Rock on!

As I was standing in line, the cashier wondered aloud when Easter was this year.

Nobody in line knew. So I took out my Treo and looked at the calendar…which does not actually have the traditional holidays downloaded into it because, well, I haven’t gotten around to that yet.

But I’ve got all the solstices, moon phases and random holy days from religions nobody ever heard of in there. If it doesn’t get you a day off work, it’s probably in my calendar…but tell me that Good Friday is this Friday, and I’ll be stunned by the revelation. (Seriously. I was. Even though I already knew Easter was April 4, the fact that April 2 was Good Friday was like, “dude…wait…whaaaaaaaaaaat?”) (Also, I’m having surgery on April Fool’s Day. O.M.G. That dude had better not be a joker, I swear to Dog I will cut him…)

I can’t explain that. Really. I can’t. Except that weird random holy days interest me, and mainstream ones, the ones I grew up with and looked forward to every year because they involved candy-candy-candy (sweet tooth: I haz it) (hmm…also, I have rotten teeth. Coincidence? I THINK NOT), kind of don’t.

“Well,” I said, squinting at that blasted screen that was obviously designed for people with hawk-like vision. “Let’s see. Spring equinox is on the 20th, ohmygosh that’s this weekend. OK, and the next full moon is on the 29th. So, that would put Easter on…April 4.”

And then I looked up to see everybody in line staring at me like they weren’t sure just how crazy I was.

“Whaaaaaat?” the cashier asked.

“Because, uh, Easter is one of those movable feast day thingees? Yeah, heh heh…it’s, uh, see, it’s always on the first Sunday (ahem) after the first full moon (called the ‘worm moon’, by the way, isn’t that kinda funny, hahahaha…ha…heh…ahem) after Ostara? I mean the Vernal Equinox? You know, first day of spring?”

“That’s…kind of…crazy…” she muttered, still looking at me like maybe I was dangerous.

{beep…beep…beep} went a few pads of paper and bags of clothespins.

“How on earth do you even know that?” she blurted out.

“It is my life’s work to collect as many valuable bits of worthless information as I possibly can,” I told her solemnly.

“Oh. OK. Well. You have a nice day, then.”


And then I wonder why people are always looking at me like that

Monday, March 29, 2010

Money Monday: March 29, 2010

I was thinking a lot about life insurance this last week. Nothing will bring this kind of thing to mind like wondering if you’re actually about to face the Grim Reaper, right there in your own bedroom. (Hey, a tooth abscess may have been what killed Ramses II, you know.) (Alternatively, he may have been ninety years old and it was just kind of his time and oh by the way, he had a tooth abscess. Whatever. Point being, it might or might not have killed the Great Pharaoh.)

I read not long ago that fewer than half of the American population carries life insurance of any kind. And yet it is my unscientific observation that just about everybody I know has, at one time or another, sat through an awkward session with someone who was selling the stuff – universally speaking, it seems to be a very uncomfortable situation with high-pressure tactics and unsatisfactory outcome for at least one of the parties.

Either the turkey bought and the salesman is happy, or the turkey walked and the salesman has gone hungry.

I admit I hate those presentations as much as the next person. They set my teeth aching, they truly do…especially since it seems in my personal experience, the salesperson knows about as much about overall financial planning as they do scalar field theory. (I’m told it has something to do with physics. Or everything to do with physics. Something…physics-y.)

It irritates me because life insurance is an important part of financial planning, especially for those of us with families. It protects what you already have and provides for the goals you will now not be able to fulfill; the loss of either one of us around here would be an absolute nuclear bomb for the surviving spouse financially – like the emotional burden wouldn’t be bad enough, huh?

So, who needs it and who doesn’t? How much do you actually need? Can you just do it once and bang, that’s it for the rest of my life (or until the term of the policy is up, anyway)?

The answer is…it depends. It’s way too big a topic for a blog post – this is like the Cliff’s Notes version. The best thing to do is to research-research-research on your own; Life Happens is a good place to start.

The need for life insurance increases dramatically as the children start entering the picture; the keyword to me is dependent. As people become dependent on you, well, that’s when life insurance starts getting pretty darned important.

How much do you need? There are a couple ways that is generally calculated. The first way is the “multiple earnings” approach, which is crazy-lazy a very simplified way to come to a figure: Take your gross income, and multiply it by {3, 5, 10}.

There. That’s what you need. Ta da! Done.

Except that you’ve done nothing to actually assess your needs and you could be wildly off in any number of directions.

The other method is the “needs” approach. This one is harder, but not so hard that it should cause anybody to break out in a cold sweat.

You start with your immediate debt liquidation, for home mortgage, credit cards, auto loans, and so forth. (This, by the way, is protecting what you already have, right?)

You’ll also throw your (ahem) final expenses in here. Funeral costs can be scary-high, sometimes as much as a decent wedding, for carp’s sake. Think about what you want and plan accordingly. (Personally, I’d want a dirt cheap body disposal but darned good beer for the wake. I probably won’t care much about the body anymore or where it ends up, but I have a feeling I’ll care deeply about good beer well into the next life.)

The next thing to look at is your ongoing income needs. First, figure what you’ll need for monthly expenses going forward – if you’ve paid off the mortgage up there under ‘immediate needs’ you may need less, but if you’re having to add full time child care you may find you’re adding yet more.

From that, subtract your anticipated survivor’s benefits (Social Security, pensions, IRA disbursements etc.) and your ongoing or anticipated income. This is your net monthly need; multiply that first by twelve to get your annual, and then by the number of years you expect to need this additional income. This may be “until the youngest child is grown and flown,” or “until I retire myself.”

After this, take a look ahead. What goals remain undone? College funds for the children, or the surviving spouse? Beefing up the retirement fund? “Other”? Add those here.

Take a deep breath and total those things up. That’s the total income needs.

Now, take a second to list out your current available assets – what you have in savings and investments, or assets you can quickly and reliably liquidate on demand.

Subtract the current assets from the total income needs…and that’s your additional life insurance needed.

It may seem incredibly high. It may seem pleasingly low. It may be that when you start shopping around, you can’t afford what you want; the younger you are when you get started, the better your price will probably be.

When you have a good idea of what you need and what you want, shop around. Competition can be fierce, so getting multiple quotes is always a good idea. Also look at different pricing tiers; oddly (at least, it seems odd to me), you will occasionally find that more insurance actually costs less.

This is something an awful lot of us don’t think we need. It’s something for “rich” people, or for people who are up to no good, or for heaven’s sake, we don’t need that! We’re young and healthy and eat nothing but organic oatmeal, for heaven’s sake!

Practically bullet-proof…

Granted, statistically speaking, it’s a long shot. I don’t really think either one of us is going to drop in harness any time soon; I’m far too optimistic a person for that. And we are in good health, and young, and…well, not so much with the organic oatmeal. But we’re growing organic peas! And eating them! Usually right off the vine, which we find to be rather an amusing form of obsessive snacking…Normal People are going face-first into a bag of Salty Snack’Ems, and we’re out in the backyard snatching peapods off the vine and snarfing down those sweet little jewels as fast as we can.

But could it happen? Well, sure. Some idiot decides to pound back a six pack of beer and take his truck for a spin. I’m distracted crossing a street while someone else is distracted by their cell phone. My husband’s excessive love of bacon clogs up his arteries to the point of no passage.

At our ages, death tends to be very sudden. Not a whole lot of expecting it; just one glorious spasm of Something Stupid and that’s it.

…and the surviving spouse is left with a fistful of bills, a house full of kids, and a huge black hole where the emotional, financial and physical support of the other used to be…

That life insurance premium is the only bill I pay every month hoping that it will be an absolute, utter waste of money; but knowing in my heart that if the unthinkable happens, whichever one of us is left will be intensely grateful for all those “wasted” payments.

If you’re one of the just-over-half out there without it – look into it.

And I hope and pray you’re never glad you did.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Even the cat isn't impressed

"Seriously? A big bowl of spinach? Yeaaaaaah, not impressed..."

(sent from my Treo)

Ultimate slow food

I truly believe you burn more calories shelling peas than you get from eating them.

These are the last of the "winter" peas. The vines were still producing, but getting spindly and producing very few, and somewhat bitter, peas. The new vines are going like gangbusters, soooooo...out with the old, in with the new! Putting in some fast-grow spinach while we wait for the hotter weather the beans will want...

(sent from my Treo)

The Carrot Expert is on the job...

We're harvesting the rest of the winter carrots today.

Do not try this at home, people - as you can see, WE have a resident Expert to help out...

(sent from my Treo)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Frugal Wooly Board

I need a wooly board. Seriously. Actually, arguably, I need several of them - it isn't that unusual for me to have four or five or six sweaters lying around drying. They could all use being blocked as they dry.

But I don't own a wooly board because every time I see that $100+ price tag on it, I choke up a little and back away. (Same thing goes for sock blockers. I'm actually trying to get my husband to help me on that - I see no reason why we can't take a wander through the hardware store, find Something Suitable, and make a few sets in various sizes ourselves...I mean, sure, paying $14 for A blocker isn't that big a deal, but this week's laundry, there were SIXTEEN PAIRS of hand knit socks in sizes ranging from Wee Little Boy to Mr. Size 11 dangling all over the house! It would be nice to be able to slip them onto blockers to dry, don't you think? But I'm not paying $$$$$$$$ for sock blockers, nor am I going to wash one or two pairs a day in the sink or something when they are made of MACHINE WASH yarn. But I digress.)

Check out this pattern for a "frugal" wooly board! Out of PVC!

My husband...he is King of PVC.

He could totally make this. Probably with stuff he's already got out in the shed because...heh heh...yeah. He breaks so much PVC out in the yard? He practically buys the stuff by the truckload and stores it...because he WILL need it, oh yes, he WILL need it...

The many faces of progress

This morning, I woke up with no swelling and almost no pain in the tooth. I was so happy, I stayed in bed an extra half hour to celebrate! (I know. Who needs Vegas, baby, when there’s parties like these happening right here?! In bed until 5:55, wooooooooooo, lookout, wild woman!!)


In other Wildly Exciting News, I finally got the second sleeve steeked and sewn on the husband’s Lillehammer sweater.

Lillehammer With Sleeves

Last night, I pointed imperiously in the general direction of the kitchen and barked, “Random Child! Unload that dishwasher! Husband! Make spaghetti! Other Random Child! Load the dishwasher! If you need me, I’ll be over here steeking…”

Then I did the sewing along the steeks by hand, which took about sixteen thousand times longer than using a sewing machine (especially since I was being super-paranoid about catching the floats and adjacent stitches and all…but you know what? I think may hand-sewing is actually sturdier than what I got using the machine the last time I did these) (you know what else? I have Officially Decided that I prefer the Fair Isle method where you cast on extra stitches for the steeks and do that checkerboard thing, rather than this Norwegian-style thing where you just knit the pattern and then have to sew it down…sure, it’s, what, twelve extra stitches in every round, but I’m going to be nervous about those steeks for the life of the sweater, whereas when I use good “grabby” wool and have six stitches worth of feltable buffer between the sweater and the cut part, well, I sleep better at night).

Then I set in the sleeves. And sewed the shoulder seams. And then it was late, so I went to bed.

But! The major stumbling block is officially over! The sweater has now come out of hibernation and is on its way to actually being finished-finished! I know! It’s like, the excitement is palpable…

Now all I have to do is pick up 16,000 stitches (give or take 15,880 or so) around the collar and do the Collar Pattern (hmm…seem to be short a ball of green…hope it’s in the Merino Leftovers box where it belongs…) (well, you know, I kind of figure the chances of Tim wearing this in public somewhere and somebody going, “Nice sweater, buddy! Wow! Is that a Lillehammer? Waaaaaaaaaait-a-second, why do you have extra yellow on that collar? Weren’t those two rows supposed to be green, Mistake Sweater Boy?!” are kind of remote, so if I have to play a little fast and loose with the collar pattern, so be it…but hopefully I’ll pull down that box and find the ball of green sitting in there, staring at me accusingly as if to say, Why did you put me in here before I was done with the job?).

And run in approximately 27,000 ends.

Give or take 3.

Which of course is the downside of all that lovely color work. You’re done…but not done. Done, but still have whackity majillion hours of work left…and personally, this is the part that is work. The knitting part is fun. The running in of ends? Not so much fun.

Seaming isn’t my favorite either, although I do find it rather satisfying when an “invisible” seam actually is, you know, invisible…I feel very clever when the two pieces just sort of fit together all smooth and stuff. Bonus points if the pattern lines up on either side.

This is going to be a wonderful dead-of-winter sweater. It is wicked warm (unpleasantly so last night, actually, as it smothered my lap in our 70-degree house), in beautifully soft yarn (KnitPicks Merino Style) and just…way not something you’re going to pick up at WalMart, you know? But with the yarn coming from KnitPicks, and discounting the fifteen zillion hours it took to make it, the actual cost out the door is about forty bucks.

Oh, OK, eighty bucks, if you count all the quarters that had to go into the Cuss Jar when I was trying to do the steeks and the sewing machine needles kept snapping. Geesh. You people are so unforgiving when it comes to math…

Thursday, March 25, 2010

What am I, FIVE?!

BY THE WAY…thank you all so much for all the comments and support. I’ve been taking the probiotics and I think they are helping a lot; and the doubling up Vicodin + Motrin hint probably saved my life this weekend. (I did call the hospital drug hotline first to make sure I wasn’t poisoning myself, though; there are so many stupid ways to die and I probably will pick one of them eventually, but I like to avoid it whenever I can because, well, you only get one shot at a stupid death, and I want to make sure it’s the right fit for me, you know?)

Now, boy, did I have a weird morning. Surreal. I mean, it started off kind of lazy and nice. Got up slowly, and took the old time getting the Denizens going because we had plenty of time, right?

Well. We hit some kind of time warp thing and one second it was 6:15 and I had “plenty of time,” the next it was 7:15 and the kids are still half-dressed and I’m all, CRAP! because they have now missed “breakfast” at the sitter’s house (which would be cold cereal……) and are less than ten minutes from missing the van to school, too.

Sooooooooooo…I made them toast and eggs and bacon for breakfast. (They were pleased.)

Then I dropped them off at school instead of the sitter’s house. (Double pleased.)

And took Captain Adventure to the sitter’s house to wait for his bus. (Sorta pleased, sorta not.)

Then I got all wild! and also crazy! and stopped by Barista’s on the way home for a orange dark chocolate mocha (oh, I was verrrrrry pleased!).

Then I came home and rolled up my sleeves (well, actually, I put on a sweater because it was a little chilly in here) and got to work.

Sat through a meeting, during which my stomach decided to start rolling and flopping around because it thought maybe I was distracted. Ha. Allow me to introduce you to my little friend, Multi-Tasking. That’s right. I can listen to a guy describe why something on a spreadsheet Ain’t Quite Right and boss my stomach around.

This is how talented I am.

And then it turned out the tables I had been using weren’t quite right (fortunately, not because of something I did…not really because of something anybody “did,” more just because when you’ve got something as complex as this something is, with whackity majillion fingers in eighteen pies, well, it’s easy for something to get overlooked in the process).

We had another meeting about this. And at the end of it, we were going to chat over IM. And I waited for a while, but no chat was forthcoming.

So I said, “You know what? This is probably going to result in me having to re-run everything I did today which is going to take a while sooooooooooo I’m going to go ahead and get myself a bowl of soup while the getting is good.”

I went downstairs. Put a bowl of soup in the microwave. (Homemade semi-cream of tomato soup – it has some small chunks of homegrown tomatoes in it, not big enough to be a problem for the chew-less but enough to make me feel like I’m “eating” something.)

Took a couple more Motrin and a Vicodin and my next dose of antibiotics.

Was sitting at the table with the newspaper getting my daily dose of outrage while I drank my soup…

…and then, it happened again!!!!!!!! Time folded itself around my house and I blinked and it was almost 3:30!!!!!!

And I had a big red blotch on my forehead and cheek from the table.

Whoa. Maybe I was, like, abducted by aliens who performed brain experiments on me!

…or, possibly, I put my head down on my kitchen table like an exhausted toddler and fell asleep.

For almost two hours!!!!!!!

I mean seriously, what is this, kindergarten?!

I wasn’t that tired, either. (Or, I wouldn’t have said I was, anyway.) (Hmmm…I’m sounding more and more like a toddler every second here, aren’t I…)

Even more strangely, Vicodin doesn’t usually do that to me. Usually, it actually makes me kind of hyper and keeps me up at night, which has been part of the problem this week. “Oh, the Vicodin will help you sleep!” The Experts™ say, nodding wisely. “No, no it won’t. It will make my hyper and keep me up all night,” I will say. And then they go, “Ha ha ha, no, it’s a sedative, dear…”

Because obviously, having lived inside my skin for forty{mumble} years is as nothing to their knowledge of what they’re prescribing. Which says right on the label, “May cause excitability in some patients.”

Hmm. Maybe I should change my name to Some Patients.

ANYWAY. It was so embarrassing I naturally had to rush right out and tell the entire Internet about it. (Well, after I frantically answered a bunch of emails, ‘fessed up to my project manager that I’d just taken a two-and-a-half hour “lunch” in the middle of all our Crazy and kicked off three simultaneous data pulls to pop into spreadsheets so I can pretend I wasn’t asleep for two and a half hours at my kitchen table, drooling on the story about adult education centers in peril of losing funding.)


On the one hand, obviously, I must be sicker and more in need of sleep than I feel like I am.

On the other, you know what I did not need today – or this week, for that matter? More lost hours. My task list (both at work and at home, thank you very much) isn’t getting any shorter, and my paycheck isn’t getting any bigger, and I’m going to have two more days fully off next week…argh.

But I guess it’s kind of to be expected. I keep thinking I can just suck it up and walk it off, no matter what “it” is. I get angry when I can’t. I’ll be the first in line to tell somebody else that holy crap, woman, go to bed!…but when we’re talking about me I’m all, “Nah. I can take it. I’m prairie-tough.”

And boy, do I ever howl when it doesn’t work out the way I wanted it to work out. (Ohmygah…I really am only five years old…well…sure explains a lot, don’t it?)

I’m really looking forward to this being over. Funny how something so small can just…take over your whole life, you know? The outward signs are so tiny; even the Yucky Thing that had me so thoroughly freaked out was no bigger than my pinkie toenail. (And about as attractive, come to think of it.) (Memo to me: Pedicure. Look into it.)

But man oh man…everything from my diet to my sleeping to even when I can work is being dictated by this thing.

Kind of humbling, really. There you are, going about your life like the Queen of Everything, thinkin’ you’re totally in charge and some junk and then wham. Something you need a microscope to actually see grabs you by the knees and sends you flat on your face.

Glad I worked from home today. I mean, I probably wouldn’t have fallen asleep on my desk in front of God and everybody at work…but you never know.

Especially as I’m not actually in charge of these things, it would seem.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Almost ready for solid food!

Heh…the things you don’t think about when life is just going along the way it usually does. Things like chewing, for example. Or being able to reach down to tie your own shoe without having to lie down for a second to let the throbbing subside.

This new antibiotic may have some (ahem) unpleasant side effects and all, but apparently it works. I was a little worried when I first woke up, but a “mere” three Motrin and some coffee later I felt more than able to sit down and get back to work!

…which is another thing you don’t think you’d feel happy about, you know, “Oh goody, I can totally spend the next eight to ten hours working, yay!” is not generally high on most lists…but it feels pretty awesome right now!

My big worry right now is my short term memory loss and documented history when it comes to remembering to continue to take medications when I’m not being poked in the backside by symptoms. Now that things are settling down and I’m getting back to my passes-for-normal routine, I’ll have to be very careful that I don’t forget to keep dosing up every six hours.

…granted, the side effects of the medication may help me to remember because heh-heh, yeeeeeeeah…this stuff is, like, the chemotherapy of antibiotics. The production line motto on this stuff must be something like, “Kill them all and let the body sort it out.”

But it surely is nice to be able to think about the possibility of maybe eating solid food again, at some point.

Even if what my digestive system chooses to do with it afterward may be a little on the scary side…

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Swiftly move the seasons

California is one fast-paced kind of state when it comes to our weather, you know? A couple weeks ago, I was shivering around here at night wearing two layers to bed and big thick socks and resisting the urge to creep down the hall and nudge up the heater.

Storms from Alaska had us back down into the 30s and even (on one notable evening – notable because an awful lot of us gardening-types had already started direct-sowing and transplanting) high 20s.


Fast forward to tonight, when I was throwing open our bedroom and bathroom windows and setting small fans under them to encourage the cooler outside air to flow in. Because gah, it was hot and stuffy and sweaty and some junk in here! Seriously!

Soon, I’ll be whining about how unrelentingly hot it is, how hard it is to sleep with all this blasted heat.

I actually do prefer the winter on that front. I find it much easier to get to sleep when I’m “too cold” than when I’m “too hot.” You can always throw on another layer of clothes or another blanket…but there comes a point where there’s just nothing else you can take off and if you’re still sweatin’ and sufferin’, wellllllllll…there you are.

Kind of out of luck.

But it’s very good news for the tomatoes, which need to get transplanted soon. They’re outgrowing their little peat cups and starting to swoon a bit – they need more room to grow, more nutrients from the soil, and some lovin’ from the good old sun.

…before it becomes a burning tyrant of unrelenting scorching heat and nighttime temperatures that feel like high noon, and not a drop of water to be found anywhere other than the end of a city-supplied hose…

The things you find...

Wow...from, like, last February?! I just found this in a very cool cotton bag, UNDER the husband's (also unfinished) Lillihammer sweater in my knitting caddy. This cute little bag just needs its straps grafted together, a thorough blocking, and a lining put into it (whoops...sounds like sewing...hmmmm...).

Also, there is a Significant amount of Palette left over from this project. Maybe a Fair Isle style tam?

( project at a time, please...)

(Still feeling pretty crappy today. Having trouble maintaining sense of humor. As long as I take too much Vicodin/Motrin and then stay PERFECTLY STILL, I'm almost OK. Try to sit at the computer and think, or rotate the laundry, it's throb-a-pahlooza. Feh. Want instant fix. Want it yesterday. Don't care about your "blah blah drive infection into blood stream", just PULL this bleepin' thing! Hand me those pliers, I'll show ya how we handle this sorta thing out hee-ya in Crazy Town...)

(can you tell I just sat down again after moving around? Ooooh yeah, the pliers are looking a lot less scary than they usually would...)

(focus on the pretty little bag, Tama...such a sweet pattern, just needs a little grafting to be off the can handle grafting six stitches together, even while on Drunken Monkey Pills, right...?)

(because seriously - coherent thought and I are apparently not on speaking terms today...I hate Vicodin sooooo much, even when I'm ever-so-grateful for it...)

(sent from my Treo)

Lentil Soup

Lentils are a frugal cook’s friend, packing a lot of nutritional bang (dietary fiber, folate, B1 and protein) for not a whole lot of bucks – and unlike their cousins the dried bean, they provide all of that bang without requiring long soak and cook times.

You can actually make it from bag of dried lentils to spooning up your soup in well under an hour, and sometimes as fast as thirty minutes.

This was a thrown-together recipe, made up of things I happened to have on hand – it turned out really well, is a healthy sort of meal, makes plenty and freezes well, and for bonus points is extremely inexpensive to make. Especially if the vegetables are coming out of your backyard, which is of course a little on the “advanced” side but was pretty awesome for me this weekend when a trip to the supermarket might as well have been a journey to the moon.

ANYWAY. You’ll need:

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium carrots, finely diced
3 stalks celery, finely diced
1 onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more or less to taste)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper (more or less to taste)
2 cups lentils, picked over to remove rocks and misshapen lentils and rinsed until the water runs clear
1 small can tomato paste, about a quarter cup (or, a regular 14-1/2 ounce can of cut up tomatoes) (or, about six whole fresh tomatoes, seeded and chopped)
6-8 cups water (you could also use vegetable or chicken stock)
Generous Dash of thick hot sauce if desired (I used Pepper Plant)
Salt to taste (ended up being about a teaspoon of sea salt, which is a bit “saltier” than plain table salt)

Warm up the oil and sauté the vegetables for a few minutes; the onions should be getting translucent and the house should be filling with a savory scent. Add the spices and sauté them around for a few minutes; this should bring everybody in the house into the kitchen to find out what you’re up to, and is a good time to remind anybody of chores they may have forgotten but could probably get done in time to have a snack when the soup is ready, hint-hint.

Add the tomato paste, lentils and water – the water should fully cover the lentils by a good two inches, so if you need more don’t hesitate to add it. Bring this to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and let it go uncovered for about half an hour, stirring occasionally.

Give it a taste and adjust the seasonings; the lentils may need a little longer (another ten to fifteen minutes is usually about it), but probably not. You can run it through a blender if you want it super-thick and rich, give it an extra-vigorous stirring to make it “kinda” thick and rich, or leave it as it is. I kind of like leaving the lentils whole, but it’s also good in “puree” form.

It’s also really good with some gently toasted homemade bread to dip in it. If, you know, you’re able to chew such a thing. (Seriously, the husband’s pliers are starting to look a lot less scary at this point…I am exceedingly weary of having a toothache at this point…)

I like to add a big old dollop of Pepper Plant hot sauce to it at this point, which gives a lot of extra flavor and kind of puts a floor under the flavorings. (I use that stuff in just about everything. It has a great flavor to it, not too spicy but not bland either, and it has a way of melding with everything from meatloaf to soup.) (Heavy ‘bell pepper’ overtones, too. Not a bell pepper anywhere on the label, but I’d swear they must be in there somewhere…maybe under “spices”? Or can jalapenos imitate bells when in sauce form? Inquiring minds want to know, people…)

(Possibly because inquiring minds are hoping to make their own homemade hot sauce with their own homegrown ingredients this year, because inquiring minds really don’t know when to give up and say, “Ya know, you’re never going to beat this store-bought sauce so why bother blistering your eyeballs cutting up jalapenos trying?”)

(‘Course, inquiring minds would also like to make a version that is perhaps just a little less spicy but still very flavorful, so that the delicate Denizen tongues don’t spit it clear across the room if the hand attached to the inquiring mind in question maybe got a little enthusiastic while shaking the sauce into the stew.)

(Inquiring minds are actually really looking forward to “canning season” this year – inquiring minds have got a lot of ideas, and one of them rhymes with “ridiculous amounts of spicy zucchini relish” because ohmyGAWD, is that stuff good on everything including sandwiches and anywhere else you might consider using mustard.)

(It’s so good it’s one of the very few things I would consider hiring out a professional-grade kitchen to make a huge-big whack of it so I could sell it at the farmer’s market…it’s that good…)

(And zucchini bushes are that prolific…)

(Oh my Lord, are they ever prolific, those zucchini bushes…)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Fun and Excitement, now with Better Antibiotics

Needless to say, I called the dentist (actually, I called an endodontist, which is the dude who specializes in root canals and other “pulp” related problems, but if it waddles like a duck and quacks like a duck…) (also, ‘dentist’ is easier to spell than ‘endodontist’, just sayin’) this morning. We discussed how things had gone over the weekend and there was some frantic activity and eventually we came to come conclusions about what-all is happening now and what will happen soon.

We moved my surgery date up to next week instead of week-after-next. We could not, however, move it up any further because he can’t do the surgery while things are so puffy and oozy in there. That’s right. I have to get better before I can have surgery. Oh, irony…

To which end, they upgraded my antibiotic to something I’ve never taken before. It is rather expensive, but according to theory it should actually kill 99% of all germs and bacteria in my body within the first twelve hours of taking it. Including the “good” ones, so I can expect some (ahem) fun and excitement in the intestinal department over the next few days. Good times!

Then they told me I need to stay close to home until I have my surgery, or at the very least until we get the infection under control. If the infection migrates out of my jaw into my body we could have things go really bad really fast; and, the side effects of the medication can apparently hit really hard without warning.

I suspect being on BART between Dublin and Castro Valley at the time would be…bad.

I have to admit, they’ve made me really nervous about taking this stuff. The list of “expected” side effects is crazy-long, and then there’s also a long list of “stop taking this immediately and call your doctor if” stuff, and then there’s also a shorter but scarier list of “if this happens, call your funeral home immediately to make arrangements because wow, are you ever screwed” stuff.

But then again, the list of scary around not taking it is even, well, scarier. Not surprisingly I’m pretty focused on just the pain part of the whole ordeal, but the infection all by itself is a pretty gnarly one. It has probably been bubbling away in there for quite a while, too – thanks to the stuff I take for my back and hip, things whose warning signs include “inflammation pain” are going to get a pretty good head start before I’m going to catch them.


It just seems so…unreal, though. Last week Monday, I felt great. No more cold, no more sinus headache, all the Denizens finally back to school after a week of one or more of them home with some variety of scrounge…awesome.

I only made the appointment for myself on my day off as an afterthought – I was making appointments for them, and then I thought, oh yeah, I should probably see someone about this and that and the other thing too…

Can’t put the off forever, these things. I need to have a whack of fillings replaced, and the implant needs a skin graft done around it, and I have a cracked crown that should be replaced.

I expected to spend part of Friday all numbed up with some new fillings glistening from my poor old teeth…but able to head out into the garden afterwards, and to spend the rest of my four day weekend working on all the things I had planned.

Spending the whole time, plus an extra day tomorrow, lying around unable to even knit…was really not part of the plan.

Neither was yet another two unpaid days “off” in the same pay period for surgery and recovery next week. Fie.

Still. Even though I’m not particularly happy about the whole thing, I still feel like one of the lucky ones. My husband is around to take care of me and the kids while I’ve been indisposed. He is able to work from home today and tomorrow, the window where the chances I’ll need someone to run me back to the endodontist or the hospital are highest.

And my income isn’t needed for our most basic expenses – losing these days sucks, but it doesn’t mean we’ll be falling behind on any bills or having to eat grass clippings or anything like that.

Oh well. If I get a good tailwind on this thing, maybe I’ll feel so much better tomorrow afternoon that I can get out there and get those tomatoes into the ground where they belong. They’ve been hardening off all weekend (I got that done, anyway), so all I need to do is get out there, clear out the rest of the three beds…dig 160 holes…cut apart the trays and drop each tomato plant into its hole…pack the dirt back in…and…ugh…you know what? I think I need to go lie down again…

(The “new” pea bed is exploding with pods! EXPLODING! There must a thousand of them out there, swelling up…they’re delicious, too, little juicy-sweet bursts of pure goodness…also, Captain Adventure loves to pick carrots, and has become quite the expert at picking out the ones that are ready to be picked… “Get him DAT wun, mom-MEH! Him is a gud car-wot!”) (Still won’t eat the carrots, mind you, HAHAHA, ‘tis to laugh, but he thoroughly enjoys the picking process…)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Not going particularly well over here…

I think this is rapidly becoming the most painful experience of my life. And the most frustrating, too – I can’t spend a whole lot of time, you know, upright.

Yeah. Things are not progressing as I’d hoped they would. And then a couple hours ago, I made the mistake of taking a peek at the Offending Area in my mouth and…yeah.

Let’s just say there are developments that are…best left unsaid, or perhaps merely summed up like this: “EW!!!!!!!”

My right lower jaw is now noticeably swollen, the pain has shifted up and down the whole length of my jaw, my upper jaw and face from nose to under my right eyeball is inexplicably numb and yet itchy (on the inside of my skin, which doesn’t stop me from trying to scratch it), I have a disturbing tendency to throw up whenever I try to get up and move around and the pain itself is…impressive.

If I take the absolute maximum ibuprofen permitted by the most lenient doctor in the world, and then spend the next hour lying perfectly still with an ice pack on my jaw, it is almost bearable.

But the moment I, you know, say, “Gee, maybe I could just do a couple rounds on that sock…or read something…or make some soup because I’m kind of hungry…”

The throbbing returns. And lo, it is epic. And furthermore, if I don’t chicken out and snuggle back down into the sofa, well, I throw up anything I’ve managed to get down. (This may be due to the ibuprofen – it doesn’t generally agree with my stomach in any case, and boy howdy am I ever suckin’ it down right now.)

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the initial antibiotic I was prescribed is not taking care of the old business.

This also brings up another topic that I’m deciding is something of a sore point with me, and it is this: They always want to schedule things like root canals, extractions, oral surgery and so forth, on Fridays. They made a big point of that when they scheduled my surgery for two weeks out – it was the first available Friday and most people like Friday because, see, they have the whole weekend to recover…

You know what? Pardon me for being blunt here, but @*^&@ work – that’s OK, I’ll go ahead and miss a few extra days of work because you know what I want? I want my surgery to be done on a Monday.

Because you know what sucks? Realizing on Saturday morning that things are not going well and having that knowledge followed up by the knowledge that there is diddly-poop to be done about it until Monday because GUESS WHO ELSE HAS THE WEEKEND OFF?

Oh yeah. That’s right. Dentists. They all take the weekends off.

A couple years ago, I had an extraction done on a Friday – woke up Saturday morning with a lovely case of dry socket and had to just suck it up and deal until Monday when the dentist wandered back in from the golf course.

This thing happened to explode into an indescribable nightmare of pain and misery on a Thursday, and they gave me stuff on Friday that was supposed to help it and went on home for the weekend…and it’s getting worse and worse and all I can do is hope I don’t die or something before Monday.

Which is a lot closer now than it was this morning when it first occurred to me that maybe I didn’t want to have this damned surgery on a Friday after all – because by golly, having to go forty-eight hours with no access to a Trained Specialist when something is getting uglier by the hour is…kind of nerve-wracking, actually.

Just sitting here…watching my face swell up…weird symptoms, increasing pain, the icky thing that has started happening inside my mouth…and there’s nothing I can do, nobody I can call, nowhere I can go and point at it and say, “What the @*^&@, man?!”

All I can do is wait for the weekend to be over and the dentist to get back to the office. And take more Motrin. Refill the ice pack yet again. Drink some soup. Throw it up. Drink some more quick during the brief lull in stomach upset a bout of vomiting will sometimes grant you…and hope that whatever That Yucky Thing is in there is “perfectly normal” and “expected” and that all we need to do is upgrade to a beefier antibiotic and then we can all have a good laugh about the chipmunk cheek and under-the-skin itch and That Yucky Thing that has me so crazy right now.

Yeah. I’m definitely thinking maybe I’d rather have the surgery on a Monday…so that if things go south on me Tuesday morning, well, I can flippin’ call the dude and reasonably expect him to be around to tell me what to do, whether or not to worry and maybe, I dunno, do something about it

I don’t ask much, do I? All I want is instant and complete fixing of my issues, that’s all, that’s not too much to ask, is it…?

(I’d also like my email to work right again. I’m not sure what happened, but Outlook appears to have “eaten” my personal folders…so everything I downloaded off the mail server before Friday morning is toasted.)

(Eh, I know it is all still there somewhere, I just lack the brain power to go find it right will be something stupid, annoying but relatively easy to fix once I feel more like myself, I'm sure...)

(I’d also-also like to be able to eat more of the lentil soup I made this morning because it is awfully good…but my stomach is just not too happy with me right now…it’s basically just lentils with some finely diced carrots, celery and onion from the backyard, plus about a quarter cup of tomato paste, and some ground cumin and garlic powder and cayenne and some bell pepper-based hot sauce, all boiled together. It’s tasty and very filling, which is nice when you can’t, you know, actually eat…but I don’t think I’m going to be able to get anything into me until we get closure on this deal…feh…)

(I’d also-also-also like for it to be 9:00 Monday morning now, please. Any chance we could just fast forward through the next fourteen or so hours? Take them ‘as read’ and move on?)

Friday, March 19, 2010


Failed root canal. Infection. Oral surgery. Blah blah blah.

I am not a very happy camper right now. (No, really? Why-ever not, I wonder quietly to myself…)

The thing that annoys me the most is that pain relief is probably about 48 hours out. When I whined vigorously mentioned casually in passing that my Vicodin prescription was doing precisely diddly-SQUAT! for the pain on this deal, the otherwise charming dentist shrugged uncomfortably and said, “Wellllll, unfortunately, there’s not a lot to be about that, then…what will help you is the antibiotic but, well, that’s not like, you know, take a pill and pop! Pain relief…yeaaaaaaaaaaah…it’ll probably take, you know, a day…or two…”

Here he glances at the x-ray showing the blackened areas where the demons of HELL are playing hurley with the heads of champions the infection is, and muses, “…probably two, yeah, proooooobably two…”

I kid you not, I was >>this<< close to asking him if he wouldn’t just, you know, numb me up. Yeah yeah, surgery isn’t for two weeks, but could you just get me good and numb for a couple hours, so I could maybe eat something…? Or maybe take a nap?

Actually, maybe you could numb me up for, say, 48 hours? You know, just until the antibiotic starts taking effect and that thing where my whole entire face is throbbing settles down a bit…?

Yeah. That’d be swell, thanks…


Oh well. On the bright side, the antibiotics should be getting in the ring with the infection and kicking some bacterial butt soon; 48 hours sounds like a long time right now, but if you really stop and think about it…that’s miraculously fast.

And it’s possible it could work even sooner! So, you know…I could wake up tomorrow already feeling Significantly Better! (I reject YOUR reality and substitute my own…)

And furthermore, what a wonderful time I live in, huh? There was a time when something like this was practically an automatic death sentence. (And what a horrific death that had to be, too. Ugh.) Shoot, infections like this still kill people from time to time, even here in the “civilized” world.

But me, well, at the first sign of real trouble I trot on in to the dentist’s office and he catapults me over to a specialist, and there are instant digital x-rays and we can point at the various lines and dots and say, “Here is the infection, and there is the bone loss, and this right here is how the one leads to the other, so we will go in this way and pack that with this and then, well, problem solved!”

Shoot, as of a couple months ago, I even have dental insurance…which won’t pay for all of this or even potentially the majority of it, but it will cover some which is a lot better than none, right?

All things considered, I’m still leading a charmed life…even when my entire face is throbbing and I’m pretty sure one of those demons is actually gnawing on my inferior alveolar nerve



I have a four day weekend. That’s right! (un)PTO today and Monday…and a long list of wanna dos to fill it up. Gardening! Cleaning! Organizing! Cooking! Finishing knitting projects!

…jam-packed weekend right here…

The item that was not on the list until a few days ago was “go to the dentist to find out why one of my molars is suddenly so sensitive that even the silky light touch of room temperature water passing over it is an exquisitely painful experience.”

What makes this a particularly joy-filled event is that the molar in question has already had a root canal done on it.

When a tooth that no longer has nerve endings in it starts throbbing like this, it is seldom something easy and readily fixable with a thirty minute appointment.


It was bugging me a bit Wednesday when I made the appointment. All day Thursday, it was, like, the focus of my entire life. I was keenly aware of it throbbing away while I was working.

And of course, I was up most of the night trying not to think about it. Except that I couldn’t help groping at my jaw because seriously, should it not be swollen out to HERE if it feels like this? Why can’t I feel any swelling? Ow, hey, does it actually hurt to touch the outside of my mouth near that molar? OW! Yeah, yeah it does…how about if I poke under my jaw, under the molar…OUCH! AW, CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS, THAT HURT!!!!! Hmmm. What if I press down from just below my ear in the general direction of the sore tooth…

(Seriously, what is it about toothaches that make us do things like that? I know I’m not alone on this, I’ve watched other people do it too…the tooth hurts, so we poke at it and prod at it and experiment on it…gee, if I take this knife and jam it down between the sore tooth and the one next to it, does that hurt? Why YES! YES, IT DOES…OK, let’s try…)

I took two Vicodin last night, people…they did nada for this pain. (My back felt better, though, so, you know…I had that going for me, anyway.)

Undaunted, I came home from dropping off the Denizens and started doing laundry. Folded one load and then sat whimpering on the sofa waiting for the throbbing to subside. Took another Vicodin. Then two Excedrin. (Which, by the way, I think worked better than the Vicodin.) (Either that, or it took the Vicodin over an hour and a half to kick in, and the fact that I took Excedrin half an hour before was mere coincidence. But somehow, I doubt it.)

Then I thought to myself, Look. You get a day off that isn’t a Whole Family day off what, every two-three months? Get something done! It’s just a little toothache for carp’s sake, quit being such a baby!!

So I got up and grabbed the vacuum cleaner and sucked the cat hair off the play room furniture and then started whimpering to myself.

So I said more stern words about sucking things up and not being such a big baby and moved the furniture out so I could get at the mountains of crumbs and cat hair and dust and dander and we do not want to know what-all else that was under it all. Wiped down the tables. Vacuumed. Ran my new steam cleaner over the floor.

Collapsed in a miserable pile of whole-head throbbing and decided that I am definitely dying and that seriously, in a hundred years, nobody will care whether I died in a clean house or a dirty one and Christ-Awl-Mighty, is it time for my appointment yet…and can a dentist prescribe morphine because WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!

I have a very bad feeling about this. It’s like I can sense my entire four day weekend’s plans just…flittering away.

Even the finishing of knitted objects thing is fading out of the picture; I mean, most of them, sure, they’d actually make an awesome thing to do while getting over whatever nasty thing is about to happen…but the one thing that I really wanted to finish?

It involves the sewing machine. Because it involves steeks. Because it is one of the most seriously awesome sweaters I have ever made, and it has been sitting unfinished for months because the last time I tried to finish it, I broke two sewing machine needles and didn’t have a third and then it took months for me to get around to buying a new one because I kept forgetting about it and now I have the needle and was rarin’ to go BUT the very idea of trying to find the sewing machine out there in the garage (which looks like a Goodwill store after a hurricane) and then setting it up and beating the Denizens off me while I try to use it and thinking because steeks are not something you go into all “la la la inch, centimeter, whatever, let’s just eyeball it and hope for the best!”…


It was bad enough that I’m finishing my husband’s sweater just in time for our daytime temperatures to be back in the 70s. Now it looks like he might not get it until Winter 2012.

Well. Fortunately for all of us, it’s time for me to go to the dentist now.

I shall endeavor not to bawl all over the poor man, who really has done nothing to deserve what is about to walk through his door…

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Eldest just opened her birthday presents. I got her two video games, one for the Wii and one for the DS.

She squealed over both of them. And now there is rapt silence as the music of the Wii game begins to float through the house…

Once upon a time, buying presents for her was easy. Anything brightly colored that made a noise, she’d love it.

These days, her tastes are more refined and subject to change from day to day. Just because she told you two weeks ago that this was “The Game,” the one she wanted more than aaaaanything, or that this book was THE book (or series), the one she couldn’t wait to read…well, that was so five minutes ago.

I was actually a little nervous about how she’d feel about the games. That’s the thing about having kids who don’t ask for a whole lot on a day to day basis: You really don’t want to let them down when they’re actually expecting something.

But, for one more birthday…I got it right. Go me!

Next year, I’ll be buying for a {gulp!} teenager.

{…pause to contemplate that…}

hold me…

Twelve years

Twelve years ago today, we became parents. A tiny bundle of red-faced crying and endless neediness that somehow fast-forwarded to become this:

Eldest at the piano

This is my Eldest, who turns twelve today. Boy, has it gone fast…seems like just yesterday I was sobbing like the world was ending because the enormity of what just happened hit me like a runaway freight train…this tiny, perfect creature and hang on waitasecond you mean…I…am supposed to…I mean, you people DO realize that I’m a complete screw up who still doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up and I haven’t changed a diaper in like twelve years and furthermore aren’t I still a kid myself and besides all that where’s the instruction manual for this thing, why is it crying, why won’t it nurse, what’s WRONG with me OHMYGAH I AM GOING TO KILL THIS POOR SWEET INNOCENT BABY WITH MY INEPTITUDE…

Everything I thought motherhood would be was destroyed by this child…and rebuilt into something better, something stronger, something deeper and wider and a hundred times more wonderful.

She’s an amazing kid. She’s brave and smart and has a wicked sense of humor. She’s kind and generous and bossy and does an awesome disdainful sigh / eye roll combination. She loves animals and flowers, doesn’t like ice cream or hot dogs, and will shamelessly eat every single pea right off the vine.

She’s an artist and a dreamer. She dreams big, and sees no logical reason why they can’t all come true.

I love being her mother.

Especially since it means I can share things like this, from her wait-wasn’t-that-just-yesterday toddler days:

flower girl


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

And then ohmyGAH it was all...

Starting the heel. Ooooh, the EXCITEMENT!

We had a talkie-talker this morning on the train. A giggly OHmyGAH are you SERIOUS oh ya-huh no WAY so then I was all like Nuh-UH-er.

Swear to $Deity, she actually made me tired...

(sent from my Treo)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Doggpne Sockaratzzi!!!

"Wow! Look at the cows! And the windmills! And the...hey, wait, are taking pictures of me again?! ARGH!! What IS it with you people?!?!"

(Daylight savings has given me, well, daylight on my ACE ride home. I forget how beautiful my hills can be in the Spring, green and rolling, dabbed all over with impudent gold and orange flowers...)

(sent from my Treo)

Purple growth

The sock grows apace...commute delays will do that. A BART train broke down in the transbay tube this morning, causing panic and confusion on the part of those of us who have no Plan B for such occasions.

..the very idea of DRIVING into the city is enough to make me feel a little faint...

(sent from my Treo)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Cross rib in Purple

Finished the stripey socks Saturday...wearing them today. :)

The new Socks In Progress are the Diagonal Cross Rib from Interweave- Favorite Socks, being worked up in Lisa Souza Sock!, in a lovely deep purple. Wheeeee, purple!

(sent from my Treo)

Money Monday: March 15, 2010

I sat down this weekend and {gulp-shudder} worked out our taxes. This has been our most complicated tax year ever. It’s not the first time I’ve had to work out estimated taxes and send them in quarterly, but dudes…not to this extent. Not with one hundred percent of our income being self-employed income, not with one hundred percent of it having nothing withheld from a paycheck.

Between that and the fact that our beloved state has been playing pretty fast and loose with the rules this year, well…I was worried. I’d tried to stay on top of it. I’d dutifully sent in our estimated taxes each quarter. When the husband started his new job, I twiddled with his withholdings until they seemed to be Just Right. When I started mine, I actually set them high (something I really hate to do) because I had a feeling we might set a toe over that AMT line and lose a bunch of the deductions I had been counting on all this time.

Between the state and the feds, we owe $19.


I’m not a person who particularly likes to get a big refund check. I actually consider that to be a failure – it means that I’ve been giving my money away to the government, interest free, all year. Money I need right now, too.

Honestly, I’d rather owe money than have it coming back to me. Granted not thousands and thousands, but anything up to a single thousand I’d be pleased to pay at the end of the year, rather than give my money away free.

Taxes are a tricky subject, and far too complicated for my little blog. Besides, I’m hardly a tax expert. My father is (shoot, the man has a master’s degree in the blasted subject and whackity-majillion years under his belt dealing with them, and why it is that he is still [reasonably] sane is beyond me), but me? HAHAHAHAHAHA. Yeah. Not so much.

Still, as with most personal finance topics, I’ve got some kitchen table style advice to give.

If you’re getting a big refund check, think about adjusting your withholdings. That refund check is not the prize in the crackerjack box – it’s your money being returned to you. You don’t earn a dime of interest on it, or even get a nice thank you card at Christmas.

And by the way, if this is your savings vehicle that provides you with a big spring fling every year…sigh. Look, have part of your paycheck deposited to a savings account instead. One you don’t have an ATM card to, one that you can’t easily transfer money in or out of at will. Most companies with direct deposit can do that for you with ease; you’ll get the same ‘automatic savings’ thing but without the risk that your state will be unable to repay you at the end of the year, and while gaining an admittedly paltry amount of interest.

…but still, “some” is better than “none,” and if you should happen to need that money in August, well, you can get it, whereas any money that goes into tax withholding might as well be vaporized for all the good it’ll do you until after you file the following year.

If you’re not putting into a retirement plan, you’re giving up some juicy benefits. First of all, you pay no taxes on that income – which, if you’re in your prime earning years, can be a big deal. Shoot, you can actually put money into a retirement account “free” thanks to the savings on taxes. It also grows tax-free.

There are steep penalties for early withdrawal, though, so make sure you deposit that money and then keep your hands to yourself until you retire.

Another good place to be investing is in your HSA/FSA if you have one.

Also, look into other benefits your employer may have for you – commute reimbursement accounts, or childcare. These things that come out pre-tax can reduce the amount you pay throughout the year.

If you’ve never itemized, at least give it a look – especially if you own a home. For us, our mortgage interest alone was almost double what we’d get as a standard deduction. Toss in the medical and dental deduction and a few other things, and we’re getting nearly four times the standard deduction by itemizing.

If you’re using a tax preparer (like H&R Block, for example), stay away from their “rapid refund” checks. You know, the ones where it’s actually a loan at 672,082,110% interest? Yeah. Don’t do it. Again, it’s your money, your hard-earned money. Don’t give it away just to have your money a little faster.

For speed, do file electronically if you can. Also, consider using the direct deposit option to get your refund – I’ve done so the last few times we’ve gotten refunds, and I have to say the money has arrived weeks sooner…and no hold on the direct deposit like there can be on the check.

If you have complicated taxes, or find yourself facing something you can’t figure out tax-wise, seek out a good CPA. Now, I have to admit I have a clear bias here: I listened to my dad holding forth about various tax situations and what to do about it around the kitchen table from an early age.

I’ve noted the difference between a guy like him and what you often get at the H&R kiosk in WalMart.

It’s what might be called considerable.

When you’re facing some weird situation, whether it’s a check from a stock option cash out or half the deed to Aunt Myrtle’s farm, a good CPA can be your best ally against paying way more than your fair share in taxes.

Taxes aren’t fun. They’re ridiculously complicated, and seems like every year some idiot spackles yet another layer of Crazy onto the whole thing…but consider how much of your annual spending they really are. Take a look at that paycheck stub, take note of how big a bite it is every pay period.

Don’t let them be an invisible expense. Pay attention to them, pay your fair share proudly…and pocket what is rightfully yours.

(Busy weekend in the garden. It’s “go time” out here in California – our daytime highs have actually been flirting with 70 and our overnight lows aren’t getting below 40 anymore. Pretty soon, things are going to start exploding out there! I can’t wait to see how we do this season, I really can’t…have to, of course, but caaaaaan’t…)

Friday, March 12, 2010

When a tightwad gets trashy

I was invited to a meeting I really should not have been invited to this week. Someone thought I should be there, and I thought they were probably right, but then of course I’m sitting there and they’re talking about a system I don’t even have access to let alone power over, and going into painful detail about something that is, to me, a whole lot of “blah blah blah” and it just sort of kept going and going and going and then, well…

…I sort of started daydreaming.

Which is a lot less rude than standing up and yelling, “I’M SO OUTTA HERE!” and storming out of the room in a fit of pique because the meeting was not actually All About You, yes?

Yeah. That was my theory, anyway.

So I’m sitting there, daydreaming about Things, and then I found myself contemplating trash.

Specifically, the fact that the cost of curbside pickup keeps nudging upward every so often. Since I get my bill online, I don’t get the little flyer alerting me to this, either. And since it is buried in a combined bill for water / sewage / trash / anything else the city can think of, well, I might not notice that it went up another five bucks a month for a while.

Now, a thousand years ago when we first signed up, it was, like, $11 a month.

I checked this month’s bill and it has gone up to $29.45.

Which on the one hand, if you really think about it, is a small price to pay to be able to just throw your troublesome items into totes and have them magically vanish from your curb every Wednesday morning.

::poof!:: The Trash Fairy has granted your wish, and all the incriminating evidence about your lifestyle has sent to another dimension far, far away…

But of course, this is me thinking about it…which naturally means that I’m griping to myself about the lack of competition and how unfair it is that I don’t really have a way to trim that cost.

I mean, it’s not like you can live without curbside pickup, gracious knows…

Y’all can see where this line of thought went next, right?

Here’s what suddenly occurred to me.

We have three totes provided by the garbage pickup people: A small green trash-as-such tote, a large brown yard waste tote, and a large blue recycling tote. They pick up the trash once a week, and the other two every other week.

The recycling tote is always stuffed full to overflowing. The yard waste used to be a hit or miss thing, but these days it’s almost 100% miss because I am all about the compost. (Because I saw the price tag on a bag of the stuff. Amazingly, I suddenly got religion on turning all of our green waste into brown gold.)

The trash tote is seldom more than maybe half full. Sometimes even less. This is what happens when you combine “not buying it in the first place” with “buying in bulk” – a lot less packaging, and what packaging there is generally is recyclable / reusable. (And when you’re cheap fiscally prudent, you’ll recycle something until it wears out and then find another use for it anyway because it’s still perfectly good.)

Now once upon a long, long time ago, we had a little issue with our trash pickup. They didn’t want to do it anymore at the price they were getting, and the city didn’t want to pay the price they were asking.

The trash began piling up…until finally we decided to take it to the dump ourselves.

A month’s worth of trash didn’t even half fill the short bed pickup truck we borrowed to get the job done. It was maybe a third of the bed. And we weren’t doing anything special to reduce the output, either.

A full sized pickup truck load at the dump costs $10.

Now, I’m thinkin’ that if we were to have a full sized pickup truck, assuming that we remain steady at that, eh, about-a-third-of-a-bed rate of trash production, we’d be looking at going to the dump once a quarter, at a cost of $10.

Forty bucks a year, instead of $353.40. Plus, right now I give away some money in the recycling tote. Sure, I turn in my CRV cans and anything else with a deposit on it, but I don’t bother with things like plastic milk jugs and other random-but-paid-for things where the money I get is more or less negligible.

A milk jug gets me something like half of a cent. But look, in an average year, we’ll go through over 400 of them, right? Which is two whole bucks! So, now I’m down to $38 dollars for garbage disposal, right? And I’m already having to go to the big recycling center once a month or so to get my deposits back, so it’s not like I have to make an “extra” trip or anything.

…I figure I could easily recoup the entire $40 annual cost at the dump through extra-avid cash recycling…

They also take for free plenty of stuff they don’t pay for, like cardboard and plastic grocery bags – so, they don’t have to be included in the dump trip.

There is, of course, one small problem with this whole theory: We don’t own a pickup truck.

Oh. And there is also the itty-bitty, teeny-weeny issue around it being a 12-layer Crazy Cake with Mango-Peanut Frosting. Mmmmm, nutty goodness…

Which, by the way, my husband would be more than willing to overlook if it meant he got himself a big old truck yessir, because a man just needs to have a truck, y’all…a BIG truck, with banged up sides and a bed that clearly says, “HEY! I ain’t no pretty-boy truck, I work for a livin’!”

I swear, he actually starts to salivate whenever he thinks about getting himself a big’ol’truck. And if I proposed a scenario under which he got one? It would be two thumbs way up!

Even if it meant his crazy wife was stockpiling bags of trash along the back fence and then demanding that he get out there and deal with it when her back-of-napkin figures indicate that we’ve probably got about a bed-load out there now. (Bonus points if I’m wrong and it isn’t a full load, so I say, “No, no, take it all out, we’ve got another two weeks of room in there at least – no sense wasting a trip…”) (Aren’t you sorry you’re not married to me? Seriously. Think of all the fun you’re missing!) (That poor man, I swear he actually flinches and grows pale whenever I chirp up with, “Hey, here’s an amusing thought…”)

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not something I’m actually thinking about doing. Mostly because if I did, I’d have to rethink where to put the chickens when they eventually arrive because not a bit coincidentally, the area where I’d put their shelter is the same area where I could potentially stockpile a truckload of trash without someone calling the police.

And if they have to move, the compost probably has to move too. Because that would be the other place where I could put living critters that go ‘cluck cluck cluck’ a lot and possibly generate some smells from time to time where the neighbors wouldn’t be diving onto their phones screaming for help because ohmygah, that crazy hippie-granola-earth-mother-how-the-heck-many-children-does-she-HAVE-over-there-anyway-and-what-IS-that-hanging-off-the-clothesline?! chick next door is trying to gas us to death! With chickens!!!!!

(Don’t you wish you were my neighbor? Denizens, clotheslines, fleece drying on every surface, a rainbow of yarn drying on clotheslines all over the yard, strange [cough-cough] landscaping choices, chickens, compost, me out in the backyard yelling, “OH FLUBBER-BLECKIN GOD-BLESSED CORN FLAKES AND TUNA PATTIES, I JUST FOUND ANOTHER CUTWORM!!!!!” at the top of my lungs on an otherwise peaceful Sunday afternoon…suburban living at its finest, right there…)

And if that moves, well, something is going to have to go out in the front of the Den, which at the moment looks more or less as though, you know, normal people live here.

And, as you all know by now, I am all about keeping up appearances…

(Says the woman who has forgotten makeup the last six days in a row, can’t remember to wash her face at night, and is wearing dye-splattered jeans, green socks with a gray sweater and ratty shoes that could probably use a good buffing but feh, who cares, I’m just going to be out trumping around in the mud in less than an hour anyway, once I finish cleaning off my home office desk…)

(…yeah…it was a work from home day, how could you tell…?)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hat to go

I decided to make a hat with my leftover Rowan Cashsoft...going with Swirl Cap from Vogue's Caps & Hats. A Norah Gaughan of my fav designers.

No commute knitting today, though. I lost the relative-importance-of-office-presence debate this morning, so am staying home with Eldest (pink eye, sinus infection, persistent cough), Boo Bug (fell off bars yesterday, hit tummy, milking it for all it's worth and then some) AND, as of five minutes ago, Danger Mouse (felt left out - severe, painful, goona-hurl, gonna-DIE tummyache magically vanished upon pickup).

But that's OK, because guess who else got the pink eye? eyes are driving me NUTS right's actually a little hard to see...NICE...but, not something I want to share at the office.

The joys of parenting are without number, n'est pas?

(sent from my Treo)

One for the cutworm…

While weeding, I noticed an awful lot of these fat little caterpillars hiding in the grass.

Oh crap, I thought (poetically). I’ll betcha those are cutworms…

Sure enough. We don’t just have “some” cutworms, we have a wriggling backyard full of the blasted things.


But, now I know why the birds are out there first thing every morning hopping around as fast at their fat little bellies will let them. Go, birds, go!!!

I am a bit discouraged by the advice given for non-chemical cutworm control. Mind you I’m not above using the stuff; like most things in my life, I’m a big believer in moderation over elimination.

But my big thing (well, apart from the cost of those chemical aids) is, I don’t want to use anything back there that would cause me to have a heart attack and die if I looked up the next day and saw Captain Adventure eating a handful of dirt.

Which he still does, although not always intentionally. He just like to really play in the dirt, and he’ll sink his hands up to his elbows in the stuff, and then he’ll rub at his face, lick his fingers, etc. etc. etc.

And I don’t want to be putting anything in the ground out there that turns his play into a trip to the emergency room, thanks all the same.

So, I’m looking for good ways to get rid of those little bastards – good, thorough ways – that don’t involve labels with warnings about not allowing pets or children to come near the dirt ever again as long as they live.

It’s a depressing list for the time-impaired gardener.

Hand picking? Yeah, I’ll get right on that, just get out there all night long crawling through my garden with a flashlight looking for the nocturnal little lumberjacks. Argh.

Installing little paper collars on all my plants? Ahem. Yes. Well. If I had, you know, a dozen plants, or even three dozen, that might be a workable solution…but tomatoes alone, I’ve got over 160. Plus, well, a whack of Other Stuff. I haven’t bothered to count all the way up, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the plants needing protection will hit the thousand mark by the end of spring.

And how many hours do I have available for fiddling around with little paper collars to protect each and every precious little blossom…?

I suspect my best bet may be cutworm-eating nematodes, or a bag of Bacillus Thuringiensis. Although I haven’t been able to look at a label on that stuff yet, so, I guess we’ll have to see on that. “Organic” does not always equate to “harmless” or “safe.” Which is a pet peeve of mine that could take about sixty thousand pages of ranting. This thing where people automatically assume that ‘organic’ automatically means ‘better,’ or worse, ‘safe’…ARGH.

Did you know (oh boy, here it comes) that apparently there is a growing trend out there where people do not wash “organic” vegetables when they get them home? While a certain percentage of our population has always played roulette that way, apparently the trend among organic buyers has been growing at an alarming rate – alarming because farming, especially on a scale that results in a market stall, is a dirty business.

Two words for you, folks: Cow. Poop.

That’s right. It’s probably on your organic vegetables. And chicken poop, too. There’s nothing wrong with that. They’re great natural fertilizers.

But do you want to be putting it in your mouth?

Didn’t think so.

Wash the danged vegetables.

And with that, I’m off to work. Where I will undoubtedly spend a fair amount of the day fretting about cutworms, and with the old cant running through my mind… one for the cutworm, one for the crow, one to rot and one to grow…

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The world according to me

If I ran the business world, there would definitely be some changes.

Among many, many other things, it would be considered perfectly acceptable to knit in meetings, and while reading through lengthy documents describing how the table of the first part joins to the table of the second part, and how the views are dropped and recreated upon the following triggers and zzzzzzzzzzz. (Which is what I was doing yesterday, and OHMYGAH, I thought I was going to diiiiiiiie of boredom.) (I don’t know why, either – it’s not always so boring, but yesterday it was just like…my brain was rejecting the task as beneath it for some reason. I kept realizing that I was just staring at the code and documents while my brain was just whirring in neutral…duuuuuuuuuh…I suppose everybody has days like that, but it irritates me because guess what? I still hafta get it done. Could have been done today but oooooooh no, yesterday was apparently I Am Too Cool For This Kind Of Drudgery Day, so instead I get to circle right back around to it today.) (Nice going, Brain…)

Anyway, also in the World According To Me, nobody would so much as blink when a knitter said something like, “Hang on a second, fiddly bit…” They’d just hold their thoughts for a second while the fiddly bit was dealt with so that the knitter didn’t have to merely pretend to be paying a lick of attention to the conversation when in point of fact s/he was trying to figure out whether or not s/he had picked up one too many gusset stitches on the left side of the sock.

Of course, in the interest of fairness, knitters would be expected to choose easy projects with minimal shaping and so forth. No fancy lace knitting in meetings, please.

There would be hand and shoulder massages offered regularly in the office, especially on days packed with back to back knitting sessions meetings.

There would be onsite daycare and charter schools covering preschool through high school.

What? I’m not overly-clingy, I swear! I’m just thinking of the convenience-factor for the workers, that’s all…

Oh. And there would always be an onsite coffee shop / yarn store offering wholesale prices as a company perk.

Which would actually be a way of preserving worker productivity, because let’s face it: A knitter who is fixated on where on earth that fourth #2 DPN could possibly have gotten to between her house and the office and how she’s going to work around this is an unproductive worker.

And good coffee is, of course, a Constitutionally-protected right of every red-blooded American.

Is TOO. "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Knitting supplies + good coffee = Happiness.

I rest my case.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Money Monday: March 8, 2010

Well, it finally went into effect last month: The CARD Act, restricting the ways by which credit cards can gouge money out of the consumer.

I am going to tell you guys something right here and now: This does not end the madness. Not by a long shot.

What it will do is end some of the current sneaky practices. Things like shifting your due date around on you, applying your payments to the lowest interest balances first while the highest interest things lag behind, changing what interest rate you pay after you’ve made the charge.

What it will not do is magically cause the card issuers to decide to be altruistic saints whose sole purpose is to provide free money for the deserving masses, so that they can continue buying all the stuff they want but can’t technically afford for a low, low monthly payment ad infinitum.

There is only one way to make a credit card issuer play nice with us: Whenever they did something we didn’t think was right, we would have to stop using their service.

If we all stood up for our rights that way, I tell you what, those disgusting practices would end in a heartbeat.

But of course, that would be…hard. Try going a month without using a credit card for anything.

For those of us who haven’t been doing that for a long time already, it’s really, really hard.

For those of us who rely on them to fund a lifestyle we can’t afford in the first place, it’s not just hard – it’s impossible. (Which makes this an excellent experiment to discover if you are actually living well above your means in a lovely state of absolute denial about it. You laugh, but you’d be amazed how many of us are…and counting on the annual tax refund or bonus check to make it alllllllll ooooookayyyyyy…)

It’s a bit amazing, really, how dependent we have become on credit cards. Think about what they are: An unsecured loan, with random, highly-changeable terms, gotten for nothing more than our signature and a scan of notoriously inaccurate credit reports, with terms and lines based on the FICO score which, and again I tell you this from sort of within the industry, everybody has known for years was a flawed, easily-gamed system.

The massive increase in credit card usage and debt has created a fascinating web, hasn’t it? I know people who worry more about their FICO score than their retirement funds. I’ve sat a table and listened to people talk about how to ‘game’ the system, what you “should” and “should not” do in order to have a higher FICO score…it fascinates me, because many times the advice given out with the words, “Dude, this will totally boost your FICO, like, through the roof!” is exactly the wrong thing to do if you want to achieve fiscal health…which of course the FICO is supposed to be measuring…

…wait, was that the March Hare that just dashed by…?

People care soooooo much about making sure they take good care of their credit cards – their unsecured loans with which they purchase everything from lattes to surgery – that they will choose making payments to those over paying their mortgages.

Yes way.

The credit card has become not only the emergency fund, but the ready-cash pool. People rely on them to pay for everything, which means, of course, that they not only have got us by the old nose-ring but convinced us to put the dumb thing in there in the first place. Here, we’ll give you a t-shirt if you’ll jab this thing through your nose! OK, great! And now we’ll just grab that sucker and c’mon, Bossy, it’s time for your milking…

We feel, by and large, pretty helpless in all this. They have the power. They set the rates. They tell us what we will or will not have. They determine our lifestyle.

But it isn’t really true.

We’ve let them do that. By becoming a society utterly dependent on slips of plastic for everything from the food on the table to the shirt on our back, we’ve handed off the power of choice to a business that exists for one reason and one reason only: To make profits.

Good idea? Not so much.

But our greed is more powerful than our common sense, sometimes. We want it all, and we want it now…so we’re more than willing to hand power over our lives to these companies in order to have what we want immediately, rather than having to go through the tedious process of earning the money, and saving the money, and managing the money, and waiting until there’s enough money…don’t care what the terms are, just give me the stuff, baby…

If we want reform, it has to start there, within each and every one of us. We have to look at the deal we’re signing, really look at it, and at what we’re getting in exchange, and decide if we’re happy with what we’re getting at the end of the day.

If we’re not, we don’t need more legislation and a constant battle of wits between Congress and the MegaBank pencil-pushers (believe me, Congress doesn’t stand a chance there).

What we need to do is just say no. Firmly, calmly, and backed up by a lovely inaction – a refusal to use the blasted cards in the first place.

We do that, and answer truthfully when they ask why (which they will, and quickly), and they will trip all over themselves to give us what we want.

Because we’re not just their bread and butter – we’re their meat and mayo, too. Without our eager use of their goods and services, they’ll go hungry.

Truth be told, without us…they’ve got nothing. If credit cards were gone tomorrow, who really suffers more? The issuers, or us?

It may sting at first, and for some of us used to relying on those cards for basic necessities the adjustment would be hard…but we’d all survive. We’d adapt, and move forward.

The issuers, on the other hand, from the MegaBanks to the tiny credit unions, would find themselves sinking like rocks.

It’s high time we all remembered that, and put the power – and responsibility – back where it belongs: In our hands.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Parents, beware...

..lest THIS happen to YOUR little one.

Oh yeah. COMPLETELY, shamelessly...sugar-faced.


It seems so innocent. What harm could there be, after all, in offering a small treat in exchange for (mostly) good behavior during the horror that is (shudder) A HAIRCUT.

Well, let me tell's a slippery slope. Before you know it, a cookie turns into a small tart, and the next thing you's cupcakes.

And public sugar-faced-ness.


(sent from my Treo)

Friday, March 05, 2010

Ghosts of the recession

Yesterday, Eldest wandered up to me in that sidelong way she does when she dearly wants to ask for something she’s pretty sure she’s not going to get.

With her birthday right around the corner, I was ready for about anything. What would it be? A personal television with Play Station for her bedroom? A birthday trip to Disneyland? Some $50 video game? A pony?

After the necessary beating around the bush (so as to not seem too anxious, you see), she finally came out with it: “You know, mommy, it’s my birthday in two weeks [no, REALLY?!] and I was thinking that I’d really like to bring doughnuts to my classroom but I understand if we, you know, can’t afford to do that…”

I looked at my not-so-little-almost-twelve girl and was kind of torn between laughter and tears, really.

Even when things were at their worst, I’m pretty sure I could swing three dozen doughnuts.

As we went through that ugly year, I never hid things from the Denizens. I didn’t dramatize much (especially since Boo Bug will glom onto any drama and magnify it by about a zillion), but I didn’t try to pretend things were just as they always were.

So last year when they asked for things like a birthday weekend at Disneyland or having a BIG party at one of the local fun spots, I was pretty upfront with them about why we weren’t going to be throwing down $300 or 500 for their birthday.

They were awesome about it. I can’t speak to other people’s children, but I can tell you this about mine: If you can put these rather adult concepts into terms they can understand, they become excellent partners. They’re eager to be part of the “tribe,” so to speak – contributing to the family’s well-being.

I didn’t get a whole lot of whining from them, even though our lifestyle did change kind of dramatically. Still not getting a lot of whining from them, even though holy guacamole, are they ever taking the punishment right now so that I can commute to work every day. It’s not fair, what they’re being put through; but, well, it is what it is.

And they are, as always, handling it with more graciousness than most adults would, let me tell you. (Or at least, than this so-called adult would. Or does. My whining is occasionally a bit on the epic side.)

Needless to say, she’s bringing doughnuts to school on her birthday.

And I am about to log off for the day. For the week. Excuse me, but I am going to go fall face-first on the couch for a few hours and refuse to budge.

I had 50.25 hours billed before I turned on my laptop this morning.

Holy crap, what a week…but I just keep telling myself, say I, “Self! Keep thinking of that lovely paycheck in three weeks time…”

(And then I have to say things like, “No, Self, you do not get a Palm Pre…no, we’re not eating out tonight either…NO, you’re not spending $48 on filet mignon at the butcher’s, what are you NUTS?!...OK, you’ve got me there, it is a lot cheaper than buying dinner at Texas Roadhouse…but still…”)

(And I had it easy, comparatively speaking. One gal on our team, I swear to Dog, has to have worked at least 90 hours this week. At least. INSANE!!!)