Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Spend now to save later?

Blew the $150 (or less) grocery budget this week. In a B-I-G way. Only half way through the week, so I won’t know what the total is until Sunday. But a trip to the International Farmer’s Market in Dekalb early this week cost $155.04.

The kids are home. Many friends are out of town for a few more days. I’m limiting video games. They’re bored. We’re hiking trails along sections of the Chattahoochee every day, but that doesn’t get my grocery shopping done. It’s the end of the year, so it’s time to swap out spices in the cabinet. I’d run out of couscous. And rice noodles. And fish sauce. It was time for a field trip.

The farmers market is in a warehouse - bigger than a Costco, with row after row of vegetables, herbs, fruits, most marked with information about the geographic region where it’s grown. We spent 90 minutes walking, doing our shopping in a meandering fashion. Wonderful smells of baking bread, roasting coffee; not so wonderful smells by the tanks of live fish and shellfish.

The $155.04 bill was a bit painful, at least at first glance. Not only did I purchase the majority of extremely fresh produce, dairy products and poultry for this week, I also completely restocked my spice rack. (Quick example: madras hot curry powder - 57¢ for 1/2 lb, which whill last me about six months. Can’t get that at the supermarket.) In addition to stocking up on root vegetables at a cost far lower than the supermarket, I also hit the canned goods and bulk items, and stocked my pantry with a month’s supply (or more) of:
  • organic basmati rice
  • whole wheat couscous
  • cashew butter
  • rice noodles
  • black ceylon tea (looseleaf)
  • orange blossom honey
  • flax meal
  • popping corn
  • oat flour
  • barley
  • quinoa
  • green olives
  • diced & crushed tomatoes
  • dark soy sauce
  • fish sauce
  • rice vinegar
  • white wine vinegar
  • olive oil
  • vanilla extract
There were a few indulgences included, pistachios and a small bag of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee being two of them.
Most of the groceries - there was still one bag in the car.

The big list of staples on this trip should allow for smaller bills over the next four weeks - at least that’s what I’m hoping. This Sunday (1/4) I’ll post my first week spending. For the three Sundays which follow, I’ll keep track of the change to the average. I hope this will help me plan a monthly bulk trip to the YDFM. I’ll have to go without the entire bunch though. A little over $30 was spent on items I’d normally not get... like Jamaican Blue Mountain.

Putting the (R) back in RNC

I officially became a republican again about five years ago. Not because I agree with everything the party stands for - that's far from the case. I left the Libertarian Party because of the kook factor. The 9/11 conspiracy talk and increasing importance placed on being the purest Libertarian in the room... it was too much for me. The DNC was never an option. I just can't embrace the idea that the money I earn is public property. I prefer candidates who are fiscal conservatives AND social liberals. The RNC platform of less regulation, lower taxes, and lower spending was the best I could hope for, right?

I held my nose and voted for (R) candidates who had supported no child left behind and drug coverage for seniors, while allowing partial privatization of social security to drop off the radar. After all, it was better than the (D). That ended in 2008.

I voted for a few republican candidates on the ballot this past November. (Not Saxby Chambliss.) I didn't cast a vote for President. I skipped that section of the ballot. I couldn't vote for Barak Obama. He seems to be a good man, but I have a family to take care of - I didn't think I could afford him. I wouldn't vote for John McCain. His stance against pork barrel projects didn't translate to opposition for other government spending, and he was proud of the job he did on campaign finance reform. RINO!

The last few months of bailouts have only served to give me confirmation that I made the right choice. I knew I wasn't the only fed up republican out there. Even my mother, who joined as a young republican back in the 60s, admitted to feeling the need for a shower after leaving the voting booth this year.

Well, somebody at RNC headquarters seems to have remembered the R:
(from the washington times) Republican Party officials say they will try next month to pass a resolution accusing President Bush and congressional Republican leaders of embracing "socialism," underscoring deep dissension within the party at the end of Mr. Bush's administration.

Those pushing the resolution, which will come before the Republican National Committee at its January meeting, say elected leaders need to be reminded of core principles. They said the RNC must take the dramatic step of wading into policy debates, which traditionally have been left to lawmakers.

"We can't be a party of small government, free markets and low taxes while supporting bailouts and nationalizing industries, which lead to big government, socialism and high taxes at the expense of individual liberty and freedoms," said Solomon Yue, an Oregon member and co-sponsor of a resolution that criticizes the U.S. government bailouts of the financial and auto industries. Republican National Committee Vice Chairman James Bopp Jr. wrote the resolution and asked the rest of the 168 voting members to sign it.
Finally! It's a case of too little, too late, but (raising coffee mug in toast) here's hoping it catches on.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Do thin people think differently about food?

Charlotte of The Great Fitness Experiment posed this question. She's read a diet book by Dr. Judith Beck called - wait for it - The Beck Diet Solution. Charlotte pointed out the book's neon pink cover "cause women love pink, get it?" So I suppose the question should really be "Do thin women....?" because men would never obsess over calories, body image and famine-chic, right?

Dr. Beck uses a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) approach to weight loss. She sticks to the eat less food portion of weight loss, rather than the exercise more. I guess that makes sense, given our TV-watching, computer-jockey lifestyles. From an interview w/ Dr. Beck about her latest book The Complete Beck Diet For Life at Crabby Fitness:
Judith: The truth is that if you eat fewer calories than you burn, you will lose weight. If you eat more calories than you burn, you’ll gain weight. There is a solution, though, to losing weight permanently.

Crabby: "Permanent" is the tricky part, isn't it? I tried to make some suggestions once, but somehow I got off track and ended up talking about Eleanor Roosevelt and Mr. Rogers instead. What's the real solution to losing weight and make it stick?

Judith: First you need to learn a specific set of thinking and behavioral skills, such as how to motivate yourself every day, how to get yourself to use good eating habits, how to cope with craving and negative emotions without eating, and so on.

Second, you need a highly nutritious diet you can stay on for life. That means it has to have a sufficient number of calories and be very healthy so your body doesn’t rebel. It also means it has to include your favorite foods—as often as every day—so your mind won’t rebel.
This got my attention. When I lost weight (30+ lbs over 12-18 months), it was due almost entirely to three things:
  1. Eat at regular meal time.
  2. If it's not meal time, wait 15 minutes before grabbing a snack.
  3. Eat a little dessert, every night.
At that time, exercise wasn't always an option. Three children in school, each with a different sport/activity. A 2-hour round trip commute to the office, three days each week, with the other two days being longish hours of work via telecommute, to finish everything I couldn't do during my partial days in-office . A husband with a daily commute time of almost three hours, meaning he was rarely home before 7:30, and often needed a nap before supper.

I stopped waiting until 8:00 for my own supper. Since I was eating with the kids, it meant I stopped nibbling during homework supervision and food prep.

I had breakfast every day. Sometimes cereal. Sometimes fruit & yogurt. Sometimes hot milk & instant breakfast, mixed into my coffee.

I ate a little dessert, every night. Stressful days had often led to chips or a candy bar, usually while driving from office to school for pickup. Knowing that I'd be able to sit down in peace at night to enjoy scoop of ice cream with an oreo (or two) or half a baked apple, or a dollop of whipped cream on berries with a couple of ginger snaps, made the quick fix less appealing.

Those were all behavioral changes. Over the last four years, they've become habits. Sure, there are rainy Saturdays when I'm scarfing chips and pizza with the kids, over video or board games and movies. Or when a friend and I meet for lunch and celebrate - or commiserate - over a particularly decadent concoction of sugar, cream and chocolate. That's now the exception, rather than the normal part of my days.

I think the reasons I lost the weight matter as much, if not more, than the way I did it. I don't have a great body image, but I haven't focused on a desire to "be thin" since I was a teenager. I woke up one day and realized it had been a very l-o-n-g time since had felt like anything other than a blob. It wasn't my size 14 jeans. It was being tired all the time. The constant drain of always feeling almost like I was getting sick.

Losing weight through healthier eating boosted my energy and improved my mood. Stress levels dropped. Sleep improved. My quality of life went up as the scale went down. The smaller wardrobe was just a side benefit. I had the luxury of beginning my exercise program with the desire to be fit, as a "want to", rather than the "have to" most folks face when they tackle diet and exercise on January 2nd, year after year.

I'm not great at this whole nutritional planning, by any means. I cook with butter. I splash heavy whipping cream into sauces. I think mashed garlic potatoes should be it's own food group. During the four hot weather months of heavier cycling and running, I struggled with getting enough calories into my body each day, to the point I was becoming ticked off about having to eat. I question my food choices, my motivations, and what kind of example I'm setting for my daughter and her future relationship with food.

I may not need The Complete Beck Diet for Life * to get started changing my way of thinking about food, but I think it is probably still a good idea for 2009 reading. Confirming what I've done so far is good and - hopefully - giving a bit of guidance to carry it into the future.

*Note the snazzy green cover.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Supper Wars

Most days, if my children are asked what they want for dinner, the answer(s) will be some combination of:
  • Spaghetti
  • Pizza
  • Macaroni & cheese.
It's odd, because not one of them considers any of those three things to be their favorite food. (With the possible exception of the 14 y.o. - I think pizza worship arrived with puberty.) Those seem to be the autopilot responses. I'm short circuiting the autopilot this week. Since I'm home with them all day, every day, I'm taking the opportunity to serve the kid foods for lunch. Hopefully, this will leave the way clear for new foods, or twists on familiar meals, at supper.

I had the luxury of extra time to plan this weekend. We'll be alternating meals between the strange and the familiar, as well as combining something old and something new in the same meal. Really hoping this keeps the whining to a manageable level. The plan, so far:
Pan Fried Deviled Eggs, on Mixed Greens (New!)
Delicious! Kids did NOT appreciate at all, unfortunately.

Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup
w/Rustic Bread (Old favorite)

Easy win; used up roasted chicken leftovers from Christmas dinner

Adobo Chicken w/ Rice & Salad (Variation)
Attempting to make one of my favorites more acceptable to them. No one but me is a fan of dark meat, so I'm trying a couple of skin-on split chicken breasts, in addition to the thighs. 24 hours of marinating, so this is an advance planning only meal.

Baked Tofu w/ Drunken Noodles (Old favorite),
Edamame Succotash w/ Roasted Red Pepper (Variation)
Figure if I keep putting bell peppers in dishes, I will eventually stumble upon a method of cooking and presentation they like.

Turkey Burgers (Old favorite), Couscous Salad (Variation)
I'm upping the parsley, mint, and vegetable content of the salad. So far, shifting the ratio gradually is going smoothly.
If all goes well, New Year's Day will be kid food heaven. Peanut butter & honey sandwiches for lunch, and they'll get to make their own pizzas for supper. I'll be having shakshuka*, extra spicy. Like hot curry dishes, it's an acquired taste, one which I'm not going to push them into... yet.

*Shakshuka is an amazing dish. It's an excellent brunch, or as comfort food on a cold rainy evening. I use a combo of fresh and canned tomatoes, instead of just canned, but other than that, this video seems to be dead-on.

More Vegetarian Recipes videos at

Speak & Spell Magic

When tucking my daughter in on Christmas Eve, she asked me for a story. Not just any story, but the story of my favorite Christmas present. I told her of the year of the Speak & Spell.

It was a year of clothing and "girl stuff". (Barbies were never my thing.) Then, at my grandmother's house, after the big family dinner, we opened presents. My present was... a Speak & Spell. I'd seen them, and secretly hoped for one of my own, but figured the closest I'd get would be playing with it at one of my friends - you know, that one friend every kid has whose parents made sure to get the IT toy each year. But I received one of my very own! I was thrilled. Convinced it would make me the greatest spelling bee champion in the world, I played it constantly.

That's where I ended my Christmas tale. What I didn't tell her was that I already knew all the words which were tossed my way, and after a week or so, I knew all the mystery words by 1-2 letters in. It gathered dust, only to be played when I was supposed to be cleaning my room.

Imagine my surprise this morning, to find a link to an Flash Speak & Spell during my morning news & blog reading. (Thanks, Agitator!) Opened the link, played for a few minutes, and then turned it over to my little girl. You see, her Christmas toys are a few days old now, and...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Baking!

It's Christmas Eve, and the oven has been cranking out the goodies, with help from my little band of elves. We've rolled gingerbread, roasted pears for tomorrow's bread pudding, and baked egg bread for sandwiches, as well as for the bread pudding.

Even the ordinary breakfast muffins have gone festive. Instead of 1/2 cup of semisweet chocolate chips, I added extra cinnamon to the batter, and used a scoop of the green and red swirled white chocolate chips.

I've spent the last couple months tinkering with the recipe. Milk from the carton. Plain yogurt. Vanilla yogurt. Buttermilk. Evaporated milk. Condensed milk. Sour cream. Since I don't buy prepackaged breakfasts, and the kids get tired of waffles (make extras on weekend & freeze for easy toasting), I make a batch or two each week, so have had plenty of opportunities to use my children as test subjects.

This is the winner, according to them:
1/2 cup Sour Cream
1 cup Milk (evaporated or whole)
1-1/4 cup Rolled Oats (not quick cook)
1 Egg, beaten
4 Tbs Butter, melted
1/2 cup Dark Brown Sugar
1/2 cup Semisweet Chocolate Chips*
1/2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1/2 cup Whole Wheat Flour
3/4 cup Bread Flour
4 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Salt

Mix sour cream, milk and oats in a bowl; let oats soak for 15-20 minutes.
Add beaten egg, melted butter and brown sugar. Let it rest while you mix dry ingredients in separate container, and start oven preheating - 400 degrees.

Mix flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and chocolate chips. Combine with wet ingredients. Let rest for five minutes. Prep muffin tins with butter, cooking spray, or use paper liners.

Scoop batter into muffin tin. Bake at 400 degrees for 18-22 minutes, depending on your oven. Makes 12 muffins.
*I often toss in a 1/4 cup of dried cranberries, raisins or cherries, as well as a handful of chopped walnuts or pecans. The presence of chocolate chips makes everything I do which would be considered "good for you" still yummy. Even my child who has an almost irrational aversion to dried fruit will scarf down a muffin without complaint. After all, it's chocolate for breakfast. (The actually chip count per muffin is pretty low, but I'm not ever going to point that out to him.)

If you use quick rolled oats and plain all-purpose flour, you'll want to reduce the amount of milk by 1/4 cup, to avoid ending up with a chewy cupcake consistency. Also, these are great made with vanilla yogurt in place of the sour cream. I reduce the amount of sugar to keep it from being too sweet, though I have occasionally left them sweet and used them as desserts in lunchboxes.

It's been a marvelous day of family prep today. We're tired, flour coated, and in a post-board-game, cookies-and-eggnog, sugar coma. And tomorrow, we'll be doing it again. With wrapping paper scraps in place of the flour, and extra relatives for the board games. Looking forward to it.

Whatever holiday you're celebrating, enjoy!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What I'm Reading - Good Omens

I'm reading Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett. I've been a fan of Gaiman since the early-ish days of The Sandman, and Terry Pratchett - well, I've not read any of his books, but I plan to remedy that in the near future.

I'm enjoying this book. A lot. It's funny. Sometimes biting and satirical, sometimes zany, but definitely full of humor. The four horsemen are... unexpectedly modern. I found myself alternating between chuckling and horrified realization when reading about Famine's antics, in particular.

How at home Famine must be in this day and age. Starvation is still a problem for the poor in the third world countries, but it's also the goal of so many well-off women and young girls. (And even a segment of the young male population, apparently.) People stuff themselves full of easy and cheap calories, loading themselves up with excess fat while becoming deficient in the basic nutrients required for a healthy life. Our obsessions with food, at both ends of the scale, make his job so much easier.

I don't want to give key story points away, so I'll stay out of detailing what he and the other horsemen are up to in the days leading up to Armageddon. Instead, I'll quote the description from the publisher:

There is a distinct hint of Armageddon in the air. According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (recorded, thankfully, in 1655, before she blew up her entire village and all its inhabitants, who had gathered to watch her burn), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. So the armies of Good and Evil are amassing, the Four Bikers of the Apocalypse are revving up their mighty hogs and hitting the road, and the world's last two remaining witch-finders are getting ready to fight the good fight, armed with awkwardly antiquated instructions and stick pins. Atlantis is rising, frogs are falling, tempers are flaring. . . . Right. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan.

Except that a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon -- each of whom has lived among Earth's mortals for many millennia and has grown rather fond of the lifestyle -- are not particularly looking forward to the coming Rapture. If Crowley and Aziraphale are going to stop it from happening, they've got to find and kill the Antichrist (which is a shame, as he's a really nice kid). There's just one glitch: someone seems to have misplaced him. . . .

Gaiman & Pratchett did a lovely thumbing of the nose at our current culture. I think it's a great book to put on the shelf with Jonathan Swift and Douglas Adams, for my kids to pick up as they grow beyond the 2nd-3rd grade satire of Captain Underpants.

Accessories: Who needs 'em?

In the ongoing attempt to become, if not adept, at least not completely incompetent at accessorizing, I've been digging through my jewelery box and top dresser drawer to see what I already have, before doing any spending. I have more than I thought. Started breaking out pieces, especially gold. I figure I'll wear what I have and see how I feel about it, now that it's been 5-10-20 years since I first purchased or received much of it. There are items passed down from my grandmother which I've never even tried on. Granted, some of them won't ever be. They are just fine as part of my daughter's costume trunk.

Here's one of the first combos, resurrected from the drawer of limbo:

Normally, this scoop/cowl neck knit top gets nothing more than my normal tiny hoops and a small silver & garnet pendant on black silk, if even that. This necklace was picked up at a boutique several years ago. I think it was the place in Decatur where I bought my all time favorite winter skirt. (Kaleidoscope) The Winnie-the-Pooh earrings don't necessarily fit with this, but they were a gift from the children. It's always good for a hug and an "Ooh! You're wearing my earrings" from my daughter. Can't pass that up. Wore my Citizen gold/stainless steel wristwatch, along with a mother of pearl ring I received 18 years ago, from a long ago boyfriend.

Gotta admit it. Taking that few minutes to think about what I'd put on with my clothes, I felt more put together. It was nice.

I'll keep working on this, and post a few photos when I get a chance to pin groupings up on the corkboard. It should help me plan out a "what I like" and a "what I need" list.

It really IS the humidity!

Last week was an awful week for my running. I ran four days, total of 18 miles, which doesn't sound too bad, but 14 of those miles were miserable.

I'd start out chipper. Glad to be outside. Glad to have a sanity break before dealing with either work or children's Christmas Parties - oops! - I mean Holiday Centers. (That's a whole 'nuther story.) About one mile in, I'd go from running to shuffling. I felt like I was overheating, even when I was running in sleeveless top & running skirt.

It wasn't a hydration issue. I wasn't injured. My sinus infection was long gone. It was in the mid-60s, which is usually a marvelous temperature for me. WTH?

Then it dawned on me. The temps were great, but I was running in 97-99% humidity each of those days. Without any noticeable breeze. I was running through a pea soup of mist, which only added to the slick of sweat. The rain had rinsed it away, which is why the 100% humidity runs during the previous week's rains had been comfortable.

If I needed any proof, I got it this morning. It's 31 degrees, with the humidity back under 40%, and my happy run was back. Didn't need any breaks, beyond the normal wait to cross the big intersection on my easy route. Ended winded, but not wiped. Shaved almost 90 seconds off my pace, compared with last week.

Now it's time to get my children bundled and outside, for a bit of fresh air & exercise. I think a walk by the Chattahoochee with the dog is in order. Then, lunch and house/yardwork. They want video games, and that means earning the time. An hour of chores or outside playtime = an hour of video games. No, the time does not generally accrue for future use. (Exceptions are made when we have a very active outdoor day followed by a rainy day.)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Harvest Grains Salad

Picked up something new during my last trek to Trader Joe's. Harvest Grains Blend: Israeli couscous, orzo, red quinoa and baby garbanzo beans. Directions say to cook it in broth or water, with butter, and serve immediately. I had salad on the menu though (and I'm sticking to the plan), so let it cool on cookie sheet while I chopped veggies.

Red Onion (1/4 cup)
Yellow Bell Pepper (1/4 cup)
Cucumber, peeled and seeded
Grape Tomatoes, halved

Mixed with the juice of a lime, sea salt, fresh cracked pepper, olive oil and red wine vinegar. Mixed everything together, and ended up with a very festive looking dish. Topped it on the plates with sliced chicken breast (leftover from night before) and crumbled feta cheese.

It was really tasty. The couscous and orzo are the standard texture you expect in this sort of dish, but the quinoa and especially the baby garbanzos added an element into which you could sink your teeth. I liked the texture.

Tonight's something new is Parsnip & Potato Baked in Garlic Cream. It's out of a Farmer's Market Cookbook I received as a gift, a few years ago. I use several of the Spring & Summer recipes on a regular basis, but haven't done much out of the Autumn and Winter sections. Had little people helping with the peeling of the parts, and also in the au gratin building process in the pan.

Fingers crossed!

Grocery Budget Backsliding: Update

A few weeks ago, I had rude awakening when looking over my post-challenge grocery spending. Have been making an effort since the first of December to get back in the habit of planning meals a few days at a time, ahead of the shopping trips. So far, it seems to be paying off.

Where my average weekly grocery spending from the latter half of October through November was a little over $200, it's now well within the $150 target I set. The first week of December - $148. Second week - $126.37.
This week might be slightly over, depending on guests, special requests for Christmas dinner, etc. Even with the extras though, and a bottle or two of wine, I don't think it will exceed the $200 mark.

My next four dinners are already planned and on the white board in the kitchen. Most of the shopping for the week was done Sunday. I'll bike to the store tomorrow, for the couple of items which must be super fresh (fish will be involved), and for a bottle or two of white wine.

Wonder if I have a miniature wreath I can wire to the basket for the trip...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


As much as I love the green of spring and bright flowers of summer, and the vibrant reds and golds of autumn, I can't help be amazed by the beauty of winter's emptiness. The grass is gone. The trees are bare, leaving the wind... changed. Without the soft swishing of green leaves overhead, or the crisp brushing sound as fallen leaves are blown across the ground, even the wind is empty. We don't see much snow here, so there's no white blanket to soften the landscape.

Where the greener seasons let me feel as if I'm escaping my day, I have no choice but to confront my troubles in winter. No pretty flowers to distract. Fewer people to watch. Shorter days mean running at dawn or dusk, so the skies are generally grey. Mindful of the need for extra caution in the gloom, I sometimes skip headphones, and run with only the sound of my footfalls, labored breathing, and passing cars. I'm exposed, just like the trees.

It's a great time to run.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Disposable Values

I'm a big fan of Wenchypoo. Not only does she make it easier for me to narrow down my daily financial news reading, with handy-dandy links to financial articles, she has an interesting way of thinking. Does a good job typing up those thoughts, too. On more than one occasion, she's inspired me to put a little more thought into my day-to-day household finances. The grocery challenge is a good example. Today, Wenchy wrote about wasteful behavior.

From An All-Day Sunday Peeve-a-Thon:
Over the last three days, I've lost three neighbors to various reasons--one was military, and had orders to Florida, one lost his job, and I don't know why the third one left--probably a rent increase.

Their leaving doesn't piss me off so much as how they went: all three households saw perfectly fit to sweep nearly everything they owned into the dumpsters here, filling them to the brim with things that other families would've been grateful for in these times. Of course, they threw the "best" things on the dumpster FIRST, then piled mattresses, box springs, broken down cribs, and other assorted large, heavy, and/or unwieldy things on top of it all.

I took my car down there and grabbed what I could get. Thank god someone left a double stroller and a tricycle out beside the dumpsters, and some pieces of clothing within my reach just inside.


I'm just PISSED OFF that this hideous waste of perfectly usable stuff from THREE FAMILIES went straight to the trash without a minute's concern for anyone else this holiday season!

Oh well--SOMEBODY'S going to get a like-new double stroller, a tricycle, some clothes, and a livingroom rug tomorrow from the thrift store. I only wish I had an SUV or truck so I could also get the colonial-style triple dresser with mirror that was alongside the dumpster, along with the two ironing boards, the bookcase, the flat part of a sectional (someone else was carrying off the hide-a-bed part), and countless other things too bulky and too heavy for me to deal with alone and with one car. As it was, the double stroller filled my trunk!

Wenchy wondered if the waste was due to decadence, or stupidity. I think it's a case of expediency, fueled by a distorted set of values. A couple years ago, I read Something for Nothing, by Brian Tracy, in which he talks about both the good and the bad side of laziness, greed, etc.

Instead of lazy, think of people as being expedient. When you look at a situation, you weigh the cost to you in time, money and effort against the benefit you gain from acting. In the case of the inventor who came up with the agitator basket for a machine washer, freeing up hours of time for housewives everywhere, expediency is a great thing.

In the case of these three families, the cost of their time to drop the items off at the thrift store, along with the hassle of having to think about sorting and boxing was greater than the benefit of a tax deduction and a sense of satisfaction at having made the items no longer useful to them available for others.

There was a great comment on an article I read at NPR recently. "there's no legacy in a throwaway society" It followed an article on Workman Cycles, a US company which manufactures heavy duty work bikes (delivery, ice cream vendors, transportation) which last for decades. That commenter was right, in many respects.

Our society has gained so much from easy access to inexpensive goods. Our standard of living has been greatly improved by labor saving devices. In my head, I know this. In my heart, I can't help but wonder about the quality of the lives we're living, and the messages we're teaching our children. If the goods we buy aren't worth taking care of, and passing on when we have outgrown our need of them, what does it say that we spent so much of our time earning the money to purchase these "things" in the first place?

Over the river...

...and through the woods, to Grandmother's house we won't go.

Every two or three years, we drive cross country for visits with the midwest and mountain grandparents. Other family members fly in or drive from California. A good time is had by all, and the kids get a chance to play in snow.

This year's big trip has been canceled. A few months ago, when it was just gas prices which were up, I wouldn't have dreamed of canceling. So what changed?

Other family members, especially the older ones who rely on investment income, have seen their net worth plummet. Less money and peace of mind meant adjusting travel plans to get the best prices on airfare. Shorter trips, and either before or after Christmas, to avoid the premium days. One other family member called off her whole trip.

This means the only way we'd be able to see [no longer] everyone, would be for us to be in Nebraska and Colorado for the entire winter break, with a couple of one day trips back and forth between the two.
  • Over 3,500 miles of winter driving - alone, with three children and the dog.
  • At least six nights of hotel stays during drive, with more needed if weather takes a bad turn.
  • Six or more days of eating on the road. Even planning for snacks from grocery stores, this cost will be high.
  • Airfare to get the oldest child back to his father's for New Years, since we'd be gone for the entire winter break. (Eek! This would mean the trip back would be the two younger children & dog, without my helpful teen.)
  • Three weeks away from work. Planned for up to two weeks, but three weeks off for this freelancer/independent contractor is not an option.
Switching to air travel could help shave four or five days, by eliminating the bulk of the drive, but the costs would be higher overall. The airfare is a little higher as hotel and gas/auto costs. We'd still need to drive between Colorado and Nebraska, which means a rental vehicle. There would still be a need for a few hotel nights; and the dog would be boarding back here in Atlanta.

There's just no easy way around it. The trip's off this year.

We're far from being the only family making this call.

According to Market Watch, a recent survey found roughly a quarter of people who traveled in the previous few years have canceled all travel for 2008. Almost half of Americans who had been planning larger trips have scaled back to destinations "within driving distance." 53% say it's because of the economic downturn.
Other findings from the research include:
  • Key reasons for cancelling holiday travel plans include "general economic uncertainty" (53 percent), "job concerns" (26 percent) and "expected pay cut/no bonus" (13 percent). Other reasons for not traveling this year include "reducing carbon footprint" (7 percent) and "parents will no longer pay for me" (3 percent)
  • While travel budgets have dipped significantly, more than half (52 percent) of consumers plan to spend about the same amount of money as last year on gifts, so holiday retail sales may not be as flat as predicted

Our gift budget had been cut this year, to allow more money to go towards the trip. Even with the cancellation, I think the lower shopping budget will stay. A portion of the travel funds will be used for an intown family vacation. We'll stay at home, but spend a few days out and about, doing things together. A day downtown, visiting World of Coca-Cola and the Georgia Aquarium. An evening performance of A Christmas Carol at The Shakespeare Tavern. Ice Skating at Centennial Olympic Park.

Then there's the low cost pleasures of being near home. Taking in one of the Christmas concerts at a local church, where there's a donation basket, instead of tickets. Spending an afternoon seeing if we can string more popcorn on the tree than we can eat. A contest between the boys and girls, to see who can make the longest paper chain, with the winners getting the big mugs for hot cocoa, and first pick off the cookie plate.

The money not spent on the trip will be split between the emergency fund we hope we won't need, and a summer trip to visit the grandparents, when we have two months of flexibility in scheduling, and an extremely low chance of being stranded in Kansas by a blizzard on the way.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ode to... Me

Ode To Joy from Beaker on Vimeo.

The Christmas season is an "interesting" time of year when you have my name. You never know when you'll be greeted by an enthusiastic, off-key version of Joy to the World. Or when handing a cup of hot coffee, or even just a memo to a co-worker, friend or loved one inspires them to sing thanks for bringing "tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy... oh-oh tidings of comfort and joy".

We're entering the height of holiday cheer, now that it's only 1-1/2 weeks to Christmas Day. How do I know? I've been sung to everyday, four days in a row. Different person, each time.

I don't mind it. It's far better than all the "jump for joy" comments during the middle & high school years.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Show Me!

YouTube is marvelous! I had a song going through my head today during my run, and couldn't recall a portion of the lyrics. Tonight, I searched for it. Not only did I easily find Show Me, from My Fair Lady, I found umpteen versions of it. I chose the clip of Julie Andrews from the broadway production, rather than the Audrey Hepburn movie clip(s):

Now, if you'll excuse me. I have a group of Munchkins, waiting for me to kick open the first dungeon door. I'm hoping to draw an Orc class card tonight. I'm in the mood to use the +5 Slug Thrower.

Mocha Dress

I'm a fan of coffee. I drink a full pot of black coffee, every day. On particularly cold nights, I'll make a pot of coffee before bed.

Every trip to Whole Foods, I spend time browsing the bulk coffee bins. I love the smells of the different blends of beans, the varying roasts. I love the sight of those light / medium / dark roasted beans. In buying beans, I look for the shiny coat of oil on the very dark roasts. I sometimes buy the mixed roast blends, just because of the color progression in the bin.

In looking at the "final call" sales from myShape, I came across a very tempting blend. This dress, AGB - Jersey Bubble Dress in Coffee Bean.
A whimsical print and bubble hem add a wonderfully playful touch to this lovely and liquid, light- to medium weight jersey dress. Designed to hit above knee. Flatters proportioned shapes.

I like jersey. The print is delightful. I could probably even put a fitted long sleeve tee underneath it for winter wear - something in a shade of coffee, with or without cream.

It's recommended for my "M" body shape. But, it's a bubble dress. There is no way I could wear a bubble dress without being asked "when are you due?", especially not in mom circles. No amount of running is going to change that.


Still... I'm thinking about it. Over my third cup of coffee. Maybe with the 3" heel boots and these earrings?

Musical Interlude

A friend sent me a link to this video clip of She & Him. "She" is Zooey Deschanel. Followed the "related videos" link to the first music video released from their debut album:

I was pleasantly surprised, then remembered I shouldn't be. My favorite snippet from Elf was her duet with Will Farrel of "Baby, It's Cold Outside". And, since the three days of rainy but warm days here in Atlanta have ended, and I'll be running in a breezy 35 degrees this morning, it only seems fitting to end with:

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Frugal Decadence (sort of)

Earlier this week, I was eating crow over my month of utter lack of awareness about my grocery spending. Got back on track, and am doing it just by planning out my meals and shopping a few days in advance. (Crow is not on menu, by the way.)
  • Meatloaf, baked ziti and salad
  • Roasted chicken breast with aromatic vegetables & cream sauce, mushroom risotto, and spinach, sauteed in butter
  • Coconut-lemongrass noodle soup with chicken (thin sliced leftover breast meat from yesterday) and veggies.
I'm half way through the week, and on target for being well under $150 for the week. It's not necessary to cut back on fresh foods to get there. I'll be making macaroni & cheese tomorrow, but it will be a creamy homemade cheese sauce, not orange chemical powder & milk.

Didn't even have to try very hard to find a little space for indulgences. Baked oatmeal & chocolate chip muffins. Have a bag of everyone's peanut butter filled pretzels to go along with apples for kid snacking. As long as the portions aren't huge, there's no pinch. (I'm nowhere near a frugal black belt, but could get there, if it became necessary.)

As for that frugal decadence, mentioned earlier? Well, here it is:

1 Bosc Pear, 94¢1/2 lemon, 12.5¢
1 Tbs dark brown sugar, 2.2¢
Grated fresh ginger, 4.9¢
2 Tbs butter, 18¢
2 scoops ice cream (store brand, of course), 42.8¢
4 ginger thins, 5.3¢
1 pot of super dark roast coffee, 65¢
Take $2.45 worth of ingredients, 10 minutes of prep and 25 minutes of roasting pears (while I was in the kitchen anyway), and add one hour of Pushing Daisies on primetime television. Almost a date, and only $1.23 per person.

Running in the rain

I generally want to climb back into bed with a book on rainy days, especially in winter. For some reason I don't quite understand, this is how I feel about it today:

I'm looking forward to it, and am even prepped with a low-tech solution to keeping my iPod dry in the rain - ziploc sandwich baggie in the back pocket. I'm not completely crazy - the iPhone is staying home. I can do without the GPS / MapMyRun apps today.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Dreary Dress Day

I had a lunch date today, so pulled a go-to dress out of the closet after my morning run. It is supposed to start raining this afternoon, so I dressed to not be on the bike in skirt and heels this time. I'll run and ride all over town in bits of spandex and wicking fabrics through the year, but a just-above-the-knee pencil skirt on a road bike is where I draw the line. (See, mom? Those comments on girlish modesty, back when I was smallish and mucking about outside in dresses, did sink in. Eventually.)

Wonderful lunch at Mirage. A pot of hot persian tea, and a steaming bowl of Khoresh-e-Gheymeh Bademjan: Cubed sirloin beef cooked with sautéed onions, yellow split peas, tomato sauce & sun-dried Persian limes, seasoned with special spices, and sauteed eggplant. Lively conversation about shifting demographics within neighborhoods, and about the book we're both reading (The Logic of Life, Tim Harford).

Saw myself in the entryway mirror when I arrived home. I was an accurate representation of the weather.
Grey, black and drab. Even my accessories, minimal though they were:
  • Small silver hoop earrings.
  • Tortiseshell glasses
  • Stainless steel watch (is 1940 Ladies Oyster, with a sweep second hand. May look bland, but is a marvel of engineering to me)
  • Platinum Ring

All grey, black and silver. No color. No "pop." If I'd remembered a necklace, it probably would have been a silver pendant on a length of black silk.
I think it's time to take a page from Rebecca, and get busy with the accesorizing. Not a lot of it, because I'm a big fan of the functional. A few necklaces from which to choose. Earrings with a touch of color. Maybe a scarf or two?

Like anything I know nothing about, I'll need to do a bit of reading. Imogen Lamport of Inside Out Style, has given some great advice over at Rebecca's site, so her own site is probably where I'll start.

Other than that, I probably need to get my daughter involved. She loves accesorizing. If I start where the princess approves, and cut it by two-thirds, I should be just about right. Besides, it's not often we get to bond over such a girlish activity.

See! Proof that some part of me yearns for color - this is my favorite handbag.

Monday, December 08, 2008

'Tis the Season

On my way to the store today, I noticed a distinct lack of pedestrians. I'm used to being the only bicycle on my trips during the week, but there are usually walkers. It was sunny. It wasn't windy, and I was almost too warm in my grey wool coat & gloves. It was lunchtime, and it wouldn't have taken more than a jacket for folks to be comfortable on the walk to restaurants. Where was everyone?

They were all driving. The parking lots were packed, and not just the lots in front of retail stores. Here we are, in a very walkable area, and everyone is driving. Brought to mind a recent post from Jett of Atlanta Intown Cycling. Kissing the Pretty Girls, about how people talk about walking, or riding, but nobody actually gets out there and does it.
If you are able to walk, and take the car instead, you’re just talking. If you are able to leave the car behind, and you do leave it behind, you’re kissing the pretty girls.

The poets talk of romance. My neighbors talk of walking. Who is kissing the pretty girls?

He's in Virginia Highlands, which gets a much higher walkability score than my suburban neighborhood, but mine is fairly high, and climbing with every stretch of sidewalk the City of Sandy Springs pours.

I'm trying to kiss the pretty girls whenever possible. On beautiful days, like today, with a basket full of good food, pretty flowers, fragrant eucalyptus and bright red holly... the kisses are fantastic!

Grocery Budget Backsliding

Back in August, I challenged myself to feed my family of five for $125 per week. Four weeks, average weekly spending: $115.14 It wasn't tough, just required planning. Didn't have to cut back on much; still had room for a few indulgences each week.

Kept it going in September, but relaxed it to a $150/week target.

October, still did pretty well.

Then came the visiting relatives, half marathon, extra projects for work, loads of kid activities, school volunteering, and training for the second half marathon. Time was at a premium. Weekly planning went out the window.

My supermarket spending in November? $1,080.

After picking my jaw up from the floor, I started checking receipts. Subtracted dog food, toiletries, cleaning supplies and other non-food, household items. $862. That's over $215 per week.

How did I not see this coming?
  • Produce is becoming more expensive, now that summer is over. There's also been a general uptick in prices over all, if I compare prices to receipts from several months ago.
  • My bulk items at Whole Foods - not the issue, but the other shopping I do while I'm at WF, adds up.
  • Cheese binge - $47 in one week (Granted, the cheese was consumed over 2-3 weeks, and made us all happy.)
  • Shopping, other than Thanksgiving dinner, was done without planning. Did not purchase more packaged food, just more food in general, without having checked what was already in the pantry.
This month, I'm back to lists. Still busy, so I'm only planning about three days at a time, but that will make a tremendous difference in my shopping. I'm also going to make a trip to the Dekalb Farmers Market, to stock up on all the staples and spices. The lower prices for bulk items there will more than make up for a couple gallons of gas and the time it takes to get across town.

Another benefit of heading to the Farmers Market? Instant field trip for kids. The ceiling is covered with flags from all over the world. There is also so much to see in the world of food. Exotic fruits and veggies, which I can usually get the kids to try, if they are there to pick it out. Tanks of live fish. The bakery. The coffee roaster. The roasting and grinding of nut butters. A cheese selection much broader than at any other store, at lower prices.

Yes, I'm back to the cheese. And tart apples. And grapes. I think it's snack time.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Weather Wimp

I'm dressed for running. Nike running skirt, with the generous back pocket, perfect for the iPhone. Cushy socks, to keep my feet warm and wick'd. I've layered my torso with the appropriate levels of sports bra, lightweight shirt, long-sleeved shirt with the thumb hole, so I can keep my hands covered. Gloves, knee sleeve and shoes are sitting by the kitchen door, along with water.

So why am I sitting at my computer, fuzzy throw around my shoulders, still in my sock monkey slippers? Because in the 3 hours since I got out of bed, the temperature has risen only two degrees. I admit it. I'm a pansy. I don't mind running when it's freezing or below, but I prefer it a little warmer.

37 degrees or 12 noon, whichever comes first.

*Update: Got in a quick three miles at 39 degrees, and was done before noon. Now, to pack up kids for a trip to Pho 79, for great big bowls of steamy noodle soup. And Cha Gio - gotta have the Cha Gio.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Predictably Irrational

I listen to books on the iPod. While I work, while I run or ride. Lately, I've been on an economics kick. Behavioral economics, to be precise. I love the science, dismal or no, behind the way people make decisions about how to spend their time, money and energy.

I just finished Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions*, by Dan Ariely. I loved it! Will be listening to it again, probably soon. Adds a whole new dimension to people watching. Gave me a bit of insight in to the whys of some of my decisions in life so far. Not just the big things, either. Little things like "Sure, I'll have a piece of cheesecake. My diet starts tomorrow."

Funny how all the rational choices people should be making, in a perfect world, go out the window once you get down to the imperfect individual.

From Ariely's website:

Next up on my audiobook list: The Logic of Life: The Rational Economics of an Irrational World, by Tim Harford.

*The audiobook version of Predictably Irrational is read by Simon Jones, who is one of my favoritest narrators. Yes, I just said favoritest. Favorite just was not adequate.

Happy Repeal Day!

Today is the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. To celebrate, there will be ale. Trader Joe's 2008 Vintage Ale, to be precise. And shepherd's pie. Not that I think the pie symbolizes anything about prohibition, though I could cook a bit of ale into the gravy...hmmm. The food choice is just my way of matching what I hope will be a hearty brew with a worthy meal.

A couple of Repeal articles:
Radley Balko, Repeal Day Serves as Reminder of the Folly of Our Drug Laws
AFP, US drinks to 75 years since end of Prohibition

*Photo is from a AllesGut on flickr. If I can get my camera working, I'll snap my own photo at dinner, but until then, I'm toasting his glass with a glass of Block No. 45 Pinot Noir. No, I'm not that big a lush. The wine just goes so well with cooking.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Rainy Weekend w/Munchkins

Saturday was Game Day. Not football, or anything on television. Not video games, though we did have a little bit of Xbox time, too. It was a Munchkin grudge match. The curses were flying. Alliances were being made. Backs being stabbed. Negotiations for levels and treasure were heated.

Recently added the Munchkin 3: Clerical Errors to our original Munchkin deck, so there were new monsters, weapons, and even a new class (bard) and race (gnome) to play.

Like the original game says: Go down in the dungeon. Kill everything you meet. Backstab your friends and steal their stuff. Grab the treasure and run.

Good stuff.

TWC Atlanta Half - Done!

My official chip time for Thursday's half marathon - 2:24:21

My watch time, which accounts for the line at the "pit stop" near Peachtree Battle - 2:19:27

Course was great. I was a little daunted at the thought of point to point at first, but I ended up having a great time. I drive along sections of Peachtree Road often, but don't drive the whole length. Making the transition from each area of town to the next was quite enjoyable. There were a few areas where the smells coming from restaurants were sheer torture. Especially when going through downtown, in the last couple miles.

I'm really happy. Given how hilly the course was, compared to the Silver Comet half, I was shooting for less than 2:30. Next year, I'm going for 2:10 or under. Haven't decided yet whether that should be my run-time, or if I'll push myself to get fast enough for that to be my time with the "nature break" included.

Posting a thumbnail of the official photos. I'm ordering one or two of these from Marathon Foto, but will have to wait for the prints to ship. There is no way I'm paying almost $40 per image, to get the digital file. In the first photo, I'm in blue, ducking around the lady in the green top. Second shot is the finish line photo, in which I am actually smiling. (The print is supposed to be adjusted, so I'm not quite so shadowy.)

My little support crew was fantastic. They got out of bed without [much] complaining to tag along on the 6:15am dropoff at the start, and were there to meet me not long after I passed the finish line by Turner Field. I even had two small volunteers for naptime in the afternoon. We snuggled up on the couch and passed out during the Phineas & Ferb marathon on Disney. Best post race celebration I could have asked for.