Thursday, January 31, 2008

The coming cold

So yesterday: it was 16 degrees out; the river was frozen; our gas heat was out. So was the entire neighborhood's. They closed the schools due to cold, so a bunch of people noticed and called in, including us. Eric stayed home, shivering in the computer room with the electric heater on, and waited for the gas guy to come. The gas guy knocked but Eric didn't hear him because the heater was on, so the gas guy shut off our gas line and turned on the main line. Several hours later Eric called to ask "Where the heck is that guy with our heat?" and they got it sorted out, but the house was still cold by the time I got home that night.

We worked on our taxes, and had a sort of an issue relating to it that sucked up most of the night, so I didn't get much else done. I did talk to my brother, because he called, and gave him a little gentle advice on saving money. I bet if I could get ahold of his finances I could do wonders, but I don’t think he's at that point yet. He did ask if we were okay for money, and added, "Mom and Dad are terrified to ask." He said he's currently spending about $500 more a month than he makes, but he's working on cutting out the coffee, and buying cheaper food for his lunch, and thinking about how to get rid of his car--though I doubt he'll really do that last. At any rate, he's thinking about it, and that's good.

We're expecting snow this weekend, anywhere from three to twelve inches, depending on who you ask and which way the storm goes. I plan to bake a bunch of bread (sandwich rye and rustic rye, and maybe cinnamon rolls for Sunday) and clean the house (my God, my house is filthy) and do a bunch of writing. That's the plan, anyway.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Gah. Too much computer at work = eyes hurting and no computer time for me at home. I'm just now able to read the computer screen without pain, and I think that's mainly the acetaminophen I took earlier. (How long do those actually take to kick in?) No writing tonight, no applying to stuff, just spinning and knitting and reading in small blocks so my eyes don't focus at any one distance too long. And now, a shower, a phone call to see if my parents got home okay, and bed.

Food for thought, kind of

Slightly over two thousand words last night. I was wandering around aimlessly and asked Eric, "What should I be doing?" He said, "Writing," so I did. And I asked his mom for the Christmas riddles we wrote to apply to what would be a fun little writing project if I were selected for it. Probably not, but it won't hurt to try. (I realized recently that I have no education in writing at all, except for personal reading and perhaps the "creative writing" elective I took in seventh grade that didn't so much teach us anything as give us time to write during school.)

Two entirely different blogs I read linked this article last night: Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler. I read parts of it aloud to Eric and he was appalled. (I was feeling ever-so-slightly smug until I got to the part about switching from a Camry.) I'm going to work on Eric to eat less meat, and better meat (from the farmer's market, for example), and I think he'll be willing after hearing some of those statistics. (And we already want to get a more efficient car for our next purchase, whenever that is. Assuming I can get him off the minivan idea, if we've got kids by that point.)

Sort of relatedly, I made a quinoa-corn-black bean salad last night, in celebration of the slightly warmer temperature, and it was sooo good. Eric and I have been planning all this heavy food, lasagna and stew and potato-cheese casserole, and it's good winter fare, but it was so nice to have a break with something lighter. And right now I'm having some leftover French toast from Sunday, made from cinnamon swirl bread. I need to improve the cinnamon swirl bread, but this was definitely a good concept.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A weekend within budget.

According to the budget, we're doing okay. We have a very small amount of wiggle room, not enough to get us plane tickets to Mom and Dad's as planned, but we'll see how it goes. We went grocery shopping yesterday, first to Andersons, where we bought a bunch of produce, some stew meat and some ground beef for Eric, and some mozzarella for lasagna (we priced it at about $1.25 per person the way we make it, less if we use my own pasta sauce from the freezer). "This is going to be some seventy or eighty dollars," Eric said, but when we paid it came to $38. "For all this?" he marveled. Then we went to Kroger to get testosteroni and Gatorade bottles (he wants five bottles so that he can go a week without washing them if possible, and then will make new Gatorade from huge tubs of powder we got from Meijer to refill them with) and other processed stuff, and that came to $80. Which kind of contradicts the whole it's-cheaper-to-buy-unhealthy-food thing, but maybe I missed something.

I did winter sowing this weekend, and some baking (conclusion: sourdough is not suited for use in classic sandwich bread, at least not when made in a cold kitchen), and a little writing, but not enough. And I didn't apply to the things online that I had meant to. But we got a bunch of laundry done, and paid the credit card bill, and determined what Eric needs to do to find out if he can get unemployment. So it was a pretty good weekend as far as productivity goes. And we did a bunch of goofing off, which was a pretty good weekend as far as being a weekend goes.

Friday, January 25, 2008

On beans and rice

Eric has a placement. This means that the spring and summer will be tight, but he'll finish his certification on time and our plan to move in a year and a half is intact (assuming other things don't bottom out on us, like the job market. During a possible recession. Yeah), so bring on the beans and rice. (Actually I intended to try dry beans on Eric anyway, since he liked mujadara despite saying he doesn't like beans' texture; it may be that canned beans are just too mushy and ones we cook ourselves would be better. Or at least he might be okay with lentils.)

I don't really think it's going to be that bad, but we're going over our finances this weekend to be sure, and to figure out what our behavior has to be. I brought home a free calendar a few weeks ago, and Eric complained that it was too small. Yesterday, he started writing things on it and said, "Screw it, we're getting a new calendar."

"No discretionary spending," I said, reminding him of what we had just said a few minutes before. (Happily, he has agreed that chocolate does not fall under discretionary spending, at least not at certain times of the month.)

"It's only five dollars!" he protested.

"Five dollars will buy you three boxes of Fudgy Rounds." (Have you tried Fudgy Rounds? They're vile. He loves them.)

"I suppose," he said grudgingly. Then he said, "I could always print out a calendar."

This is going to be interesting. I've lived on a small income before, but it was by myself with lower fixed expenses (i.e. grad school the first time, and moving here with no job the second time). He's never done either the living within small means or the living by himself. He was in serious credit card debt when we first started dating. I've asked him several times why, and all he could say was that he had to spend more than he was getting. So this may be his first experience in economizing--because I'm pretty sure he wouldn't be doing it if I weren't so insistent that we not carry a balance on our credit card. "It's only about thirty dollars a month," he says, so casually. I can't be so casual about it--which is going to be good for our bank account, I think, even if it does drive us both slightly crazy.

Joshua Bell

Last night was the Joshua Bell concert. It was at the Stranahan, not the Peristyle as usual, and when we got there we saw why: it was completely packed. This was a welcome change from our usual symphony experience. We were still skewing the demographics by being younger than 95% of the people there; but we saw some people our age and even a few teenagers and kids, which was pretty cool.

The first piece was Corigliano's Promenade, which has musicians gradually coming onstage as the piece progresses. I loved the conceit, but thought it could have been better choreographed. The music and the pieces in general were good; I'm still not an avid fan, but I'm learning to like classical music more and understand more about it.

Joshua Bell was pretty good, but not as good as we were expecting. As Eric said, for all the hype, and the high price he was undoubtedly commanding, we should have received a nearly flawless performance, and we didn't. As I listened I thought it sounded like he was hitting a few wrong notes, but I don't know the piece, nor violin in general, and supposed it was just my ignorance. No: Eric confirmed that there had been several mistakes. (Of course, the encore piece was something from "The Red Violin," and I thought it sounded like someone jacking up a car to change a tire but he said it was a much better performance, so I'm still a Philistine.)

Admittedly, we were both prejudiced going in, me by the fame and by his attitude in an article I read about him, Eric by his looks--his hair was a little too long and his clothes a little too casual. We both thought his performance as performance was a little too forced, a little too much playing a part. As if his passion were for giving a good performance rather than for the music per se. Perhaps that's unfair; but that's how we perceived it. We saw Anne Akiko Meyers, also a violin soloist, last year, and her passion was evident and genuine: she played well because she loved it well--and Eric said she was the better performer, and while I'm a Philistine I agree. We would much rather see her again than Joshua Bell. Still, it was a nice concert--the orchestra itself was in good form, as usual--and I'm really glad we have these tickets now that we won't be going out much otherwise for a while.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Happier notes:

1) One of the salespeople at work called me today, saying, "You know Company X? You know Person Y?"

"Yeah," I said, grabbing my pen, expecting to be given details to do some work for Person Y.

"Well, I'm visiting their facility today, and she was raving about you. She said she doesn't want to work with anyone else at our company anymore. She's been telling all her coworkers to send their work to you."

2) I got an e-mail from a small mail-order nursery asking if I'd be willing to publish an article of theirs (an advertisement) on my garden blog for $75. I'm not doing it, of course, since I've never heard of them, but I'm totally flattered to be asked.

3) Tomorrow we're seeing Joshua Bell in concert. (Tickets were free with our season symphony tickets, which we purchased long ago.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Ugh. And I called to beg for mercy and the guy who answered said in a professionally surprised and displeased tone, "Well, I hesitate to do anything for you as you're still overdue." I protested I had paid last night and he said, "Well, perhaps when it's gone through and I can see you've actually done something, but right now I'd hesitate. But once it's gone through, you could call back and see." And then said it again, because clearly a girl who expects an electronic transaction to take place immediately is an idiot. I should have hung up on him.
So this is how it went: We had a wedding. We went on a honeymoon. We fixed our driveway. Eric got word his boss was thinking of replacing him. We went to Seattle for Christmas. We had to call a plumber to fix a leak. Eric ordered a new computer. Eric lost his job. We went to a convention at a hotel. We went to IKEA. I discovered we never got last month's credit card bill.

Result: we owe more money on the credit card than we have. (That's not quite true--we have money in Ameritrade accounts--but with as badly as it's doing we hate to pull that money out.) I paid most of it once I realized what was going on, but there's still a balance. With Eric's last paycheck incoming, and our tax refund fairly hefty once I actually get my W2, we should be okay in a couple of weeks with some money to spare. But I found out last night that credit card debt really, really stresses me out.

It's worse that this was inadvertent debt caused by not thinking to check on the credit card bill for three weeks, of course--if we really had to carry over debt, we'd have used a lower-APR card. (We use the main one because it gives cash-back points.) And it's bad that with only my paycheck coming in, it'll take longer to pay off and replenish a cushion in the bank account. If we can. I'm going to call the credit card company to beg for mercy--we got hit with finance charges, a late fee, and a higher APR, and I'm hoping to get two of the three removed, considering I've held this card for several years and never had a late payment or a balance before.

So we talked last night about how to save a little money. Lower the thermostat, cut out all unnecessary spending (except for Eric's weekly trip to Ann Arbor...I've promised that we'll keep that if we can, but if we have to, he'll be Toledo-bounded for a while). Take off the extra hundred dollars we've been paying on the mortgage. No eating out. We have an insurance bill due April 1, and my car renewal April 5, plus the usual bills. I think we'll be okay, if tight, but we're going to have to see. I hadn't realized how much of my happiness comes from knowledge of financial security. It also--kind of--makes me happy that I can--kind of--support us both, but things will be better in the fall when Eric can teach again. Or, if he can't get a student teaching placement this semester, in a month or two when he finds a new job.

So yeah, not happy times this January. At least it's getting lighter out. And the job's going okay. And I'm writing again. And I have enough books and yarn and fiber to keep me going for entertainment through the rest of this year.

Friday, January 18, 2008

I am now the sole breadwinner in our household (as well as baker, I suppose). That's me, bringing home the vegetarian bacon-like analogue and frying it up in a pan. Eric talked to his boss and yes, they're getting a new teacher. So he's spending the afternoon saying good-bye to his fellow teachers (to most of whom this will come as a total surprise) and cleaning out his desk. He called the education program coordinator and his advisor, and it sounds like there's a decent chance that he can get another placement this semester. So we'll be tight on money, but we won't have to stay an extra year. I'm hoping that how it plays out.

For now, we have to talk about what he'll do next week (he goes crazy without a schedule) and get up to ConFusion. A weekend out of town, with people he likes and only sees once a year, constant activities and free drinks and snacks sounds like just about the right thing after news like this.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

I made Rose Levy Berenbaum's flaxseed wheat bread last night, as part of my ongoing quest to make sandwich bread for Eric--I can't make rye because we haven't gotten rid of the old stuff yet. I really shouldn't have because we already have three kinds of bread in the basket, but I wanted to make bread, so I made it and froze it once it was cool. I tried a bit and it's really good! Wheaty and chewy and soft and a little sweet. Even if he doesn't like it (he had a bite, but said he'll have to try it in a sandwich to really evaluate it), I may make it again for me.

I also pulled out the sourdough no-knead bread from the freezer so that I can snack on it because the rosemary-garlic bread is gone. Despite having three kinds of bread in the basket. Um, at least this hobby is healthier than cake-baking, right?

Eric and I discussed his likely upcoming unemployment again last night, and he mentioned something I hadn't properly thought about: if he gets fired tomorrow and can't find another student teaching placement, which is likely, and he really has to teach a year in Ohio before he can get his permanent license, we have to stay here an extra year. I HATE this idea. He doesn't know for sure that the latter statement is true; he's going to call a couple of people today and ask about this, among other things. I hope it isn't. Or that he finishes his student teaching this semester. I really don't want to stay here an extra year. It would be good for house appreciation and finances and stability and such, but I want to go home. I want to get out of the Midwest before I'm thirty, darn it. But if we can't we can't.

Tonight, I'm doing a last load of laundry (and trying to felt my Palm case again...I did it once but it's still too big) and packing for ConFusion, including figuring out what knitting project to bring. And preferably cleaning. I'm so bad at keeping up with cleaning. How am I ever going to get by when we have kids? We won't be able to afford a maid, and there will be at least a six- or seven-year gap until I can start making the kids do it. (What? Isn't that why people have kids?)

Monday, January 14, 2008

So Eric had been put on probation, so to speak, at work, because his boss and his boss's boss are...inept, let's say. They came into his classroom and told his students that if they didn't behave, they would have to get a new teacher. Perhaps they thought this would be helpful? It wasn't. He's spoken to plenty of people, coworkers and mentors and such, and they're agreed that he's in a bad position that isn't his fault and what his bosses are doing is counterproductive and nonsensical...but still, there it is.

Now he's been told that he'll "know" by the end of the week. He's already lined up student teaching for this semester, already met with his supervisor...already paid tuition. If they fire him now, he presumably won't be able to student teach...unless they fire him but allow him to do the student teaching for free, which would be despicable. He might take an offer like that, or he might not; we already worked out that it wouldn’t necessarily slow him down to do student teaching another semester, it would just make our finances tighter. [ETA: I don't want him to. It would injure his pride, and therefore mine.]

Still, not a happy situation. I hope that it's good news. If it's not, I hope ConFusion is a sufficient distraction before he faces the next week unemployed. Or rather, sending job applications to places that will pay him much better.
Eric took his car to AAA on Friday to get the tire fixed and the heating system looked at--his car has stopped heating up in the mornings. I picked him up, we went shopping (potting soil, apple cider, and canvas for me for a couche), we went home, I mixed up some sourdough no-knead bread and some garlic-rosemary bread. The next morning, I went to the bank and to the farmer's market. I did very well: apples, lettuce, tomato, turnips, a huge loaf of bread (sadly Eric didn't like it--he doesn't like sesame seeds, apparently--but that just means more for me), more apple cider (cheaper!), canned chicken and noodles. As I was attempting to pay for the apples and cider, Eric called.

"There's good news and bad news," he said. "Here's the bad news. AAA called, and my water pump is completely busted. That's why I wasn't getting any heat. And they can't get the part until Monday so we'll have to carpool. The good news is, they replaced that pump last May and it's under warranty, so all we have to pay is $15 for the leaky tire."

"Sounds good to me," I said, and hung up and paid for the apples and cider.

I baked both breads (plus some chocolate chip cookies), and I’m happy with the garlic-rosemary bread now at 10 cloves (roasted and chopped) for one loaf. Now I've got to figure out what sourdough recipe I want to try next. I didn't taste the no-knead bread, because I won't be baking this weekend because I'll be at Confusion and I'm saving it to bring along for snacking there (since we normally don't get a lot in the way of real food anyway). I noticed that 80% hydration was too much; it sagged and ran all over when I baked it, though it did rise about as much as a ciabatta does, I believe--about three inches. (I'm still not sure what a ciabatta is exactly.) I've also got to work on some sandwich breads--there are two in The Bread Bible that I want to try, flax seed bread and cracked wheat bread (only I'd probably use wheat germ instead of bulgur wheat).

I'm feeling very un-well-read lately, which is a signal that I need to catch up on some of the nonfiction downstairs that I haven't read. It does not mean I need to go the bookstore. Really, it doesn't. We're paying for a bunch of stuff this month and one of our usual bookstore trips will set us back more than we need. That doesn't mean we're not going--or that we won't buy books at ConFusion--but that's what I'll tell myself as long as I can.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The pizza experiment is up here. We had grilled cheese sandwiches and soup for dinner. Tomorrow, I'm going to the farmer's market and hoping to bring home fruit other than oranges. I have potting soil for winter sowing now but no shop light for my greenhouse--the guy I asked in Anderson's listened to me ask for a 24" shop light, because we found 24" plant/aquarium light bulbs, and said, "They're here. This is $8.97." It was 48 inches. Eric said, "Is there a 24-inch one?" The guy stood there impassively. I said, "I take that as a no," and we walked away. Sigh. But I will get a light...someday. Someday within the next two months, in fact.
We did the pizza crust extravaganza last night, and except for a less consistent schedule of rising and resting and baking than I would have liked, it went off with reasonable scientific rigor. (I'm going to post it at The Fresh Loaf tonight if I remember.) We like the honey-wheat and the herbed crusts best, so the next step is to try honey-wheat-herb crust. Incidentally, doing mini-pizzas like this (each was about seven inches across) would be a great way of doing a tapas-type meal, or for a party. Bite-size pizzas would also be good, I bet, though a bit more work (but they'd bake up really fast!). Maybe I should try that for our next party. Along with the homemade pickles and salsa and ice cream. Maybe this year we'll learn to make our own tortilla chips?

Tonight I'm yet again working on the garlic-rosemary sourdough, using less garlic this time. Next week there will be no bread baking at all (we're going to ConFusion and there will be no pizza because I need time to recover from last night), so I better get my licks in now.

I got the first of my seed orders last night, from Seeds of Change. I was quite pleased--and the free seed packet was nice, of course. And then I was looking at Baker Creek and finding, among other things, seeds for a two-foot pomegranate tree. It has been very, very hard not to order those seeds. But I've got enough to deal with this upcoming growing season...especially since we've got all that landscaping to do in addition to the actual garden work. Though feeling free to call on Eric to do half of that will help a lot.

I called up the tax guy and he told me what to send in to prove I didn't live here when I was working in Dayton, so that’s fine. But the other line item, not enough Toledo tax, was due to my work taking out only the tax for the city the company is located in, which is lower than Toledo's. I checked with HR just now and they won't take out the proper amount, so I'm going to have to pay Toledo tax myself for the next couple of years. Realistically speaking this is probably better for me--I get to hang on to that extra couple of hundred dollars for longer--but it annoys me nonetheless.

We're going to the Farmer's Market tomorrow. I am determined. I wanted to go all summer last year and didn't, partly because I had my own garden and partly because it's downtown where we have no other business. Now that I know they're open in the winter--and I've been told they have greens and apple cider and eggs and apparently an entire poultry house, if Eric wants fresh chicken soup--I must visit and see what's there. I'm hoping they have cheese and potatoes, too.

It's a slow day at work, with my two big concerns being a project that's been delayed and a project with mistakes that I have to help ameliorate. I didn't make the mistakes, so I don't feel too bad about that. It hasn't been too bad for my first full work week in almost a month, though.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Huh. I wonder how many other psych majors have written a poem about Milgram.

Other than that, I'm not getting anything done tonight at all. I meant to do my pizza crust extravaganza, but I didn't feel like it. I didn't even cook, just reheated some soup I froze a couple of months ago. I've been spinning a little, and listening to Regina Spektor, and obviously coming up with weird poems. I should go exercise. I don't want to. But then, I haven't done anything else right tonight, so I suppose I should.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Ugh. I got a letter from the city of Toledo, telling me that I owe city tax for 2006 and 2005. They spelled my name wrong. The 2006 line had me working for an aerospace company, which I don't. (It's one letter off from the company I do work for.) The 2005 line? It was for the company I worked at in Dayton. When I went back and looked at my W2s I could see how that could happen; the W2 was sent to my Toledo apartment, because that's where I moved immediately after quitting. But still. Ugh. I called to see how I should go about proving I don't owe them that extra $266 and left a message.

On to happier topics. Specifically: pizza. Our next kitchen experimental subject is pizza crust, courtesy of Animal, Vegetable, Mineral and a packet of pizza crust mix I bought from Jungle Jim's and decided the time had come to use. We tried it a couple of weeks ago. The mix was awful, the Prego (?) pizza sauce mediocre, the store-brand cheese didn't even taste like mozzarella. "We can do better than this," Eric and I said, because we like pizza and it really doesn't take long to make, even from scratch. So Friday I made sourdough pizza crust, because I had some starter to use up, and we used Trader Joe's marinara, and the results were so much better...but still needed improving. We have to replace the cheese yet, and I plan to make and can our own pizza sauce in the summer when the tomatoes come in; but I can work on the crust now.

So I found three recipes online that I want to try, and made up three more based on them. There's a control, of just flour, water, salt, and yeast. There's one with oil, one with oil and wheat flour, one with oil and honey, one with wheat and honey, one with herbs, and one with herbs and oil. To be truly scientifically rigorous I'd be changing just one variable at a time, but that takes too long and I want to see how these taste in combination. So this week I'm making mini pizzas, just crust, sauce and mozzarella (so I'll be replacing it soon), and taking notes on each variation. If we don't end up with the perfect homemade pizza, it will not be for lack of trying. Or geekery.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

My 2007 annual review is written and this year's goals made. I did not write down any goals related to weight (well, except the trying-to-make-a-baby one, I guess). I do in fact need to work on my weight, but really more as a sidelight to the real issue, which is working on my eating habits. I seem to go in cycles: I eat fairly well, I slide for a while, I realize I'm starting into bad habits again and catch myself, I start eating better. I'm in the process of catching myself.

I didn't have any special goals related to crafting, just to finish a couple of projects and not get too worried about them. Oh, and to decide on and start any holiday crafts by August at the latest. I had a couple of goals related to gardening, other than the "let's do this again" one: learn the Latin names of plants I like (and possibly others), do as much with the new garden as I did last year with the old, save more seeds, preserve more produce, get Eric to eat more produce. He does pretty well usually, but we can both use some improvement, and eating from the garden is always a good thing. I'm expanding my repertoire quite a bit this year; I don't think either he or I have ever tried a turnip, so we're going to. If I turn out not to be able to grow them I'll buy some.

Also, I want to cook him legumes this year. He has stated that he does not like beans, including lentils; but when we helped our friends move just before Christmas, they bought Middle Eastern food for lunch and he tried the mujadara (lentils and rice with carmelized onions) and really liked it. "Maybe I just don't like beans that are cooked until they're mushy?" he wondered, and of course now I wonder too. If he liked beans it would increase our menu overlap by so much. Even if it means buying bags of beans rather than cans--but then, that's better anyway, just not so lazy on my part.

I do have specific goals related to writing. I need--as I say all the time--to focus on this; and I need to do it now, because what good is it going to do me to wait? I haven't found anything I like better or want to do more. And with the Christmas crafts out of the way I feel an incredible lightness of being and plethora of free time. I decided not to ban crafts this year, but I'm going to go easy on them, because they do seem to be getting in my way. (Consider it my TV, except it exercises my fingers more than a remote does.)

All in all, it's "more of the same, only better" that I'm aiming for. Which is fine; it means I'm living my life more or less the way I want it.