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December 2011 - Posts - Live Like a Mensch
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Live Like a Mensch

December 2011 - Posts

  • An Open Letter to 2012

    As we're closing out the last few days of 2011, I'd like to take a few moments to bid 2012 a warm mencsh welcome.  Starting a brand new calendar does something to this aspiring mensch.  The world is fresh and new, the calendar is empty, and the possibilities are endless.  So 2012, I do hope that you can do your best to live up to my expectations.  That might be difficult, considering you are an election year and campaign commercials are soon to be cluttering up the airways, but I'll try not to hold that against you.  If you do your best to be a sweet, round year, I promise to do my best to:

    • Complete my crappy charity challenge of running 500 miles this year
    • Be LO's best mother and J's best wife
    • Eat, spend, and live more mindfully
    • Generally be as mensch-like as possible

    For the most part, 2012, I think you and I should get along famously.  Welcome!

    Oh, and whatever you can do to keep the campaign vitriol to a minimum would be greatly appreciated by all of us.

  • The Case of the Disappearing Cash

    The cash from my wallet seems to be vanishing into thin air.

    Before we left for North Carolina, I carefully set aside $200 to spend on the road.  We knew it wouldn't go that far, so we decided to be quite careful with it.  No unnecessary purchases.  No road food. No souvenirs.  That's why G-d invented cameras.  (Which we brought with us and have failed to use once during this trip).

    Here it is, day four of our trip, and we are down to $14.50.

    I'd like to claim that I have no idea where it went.  That we need to call in reinforcements--the Baker Street Irregulars, Scotland Yard and the rest.  But I'd be lying to you and myself.

    You see, when money is disconnected from the particular envelopes we store it in (we do the Dave Ramsey envelope system for those of you keeping score at home), the money suddenly seems to be "free."  That Chapstick upon which the fate of the world (or at least my lips) seems to rest is perfectly okay to add to the gas station/restroom break since my brain is saying "It's okay! I've got cash!"  Never mind the fact that I have something like three Chapsticks currently MIA somewhere in the car.

    I am pleased that we're going to be starting our Financial Fast in another few days.  I need to get back in touch with my thrifty ways.  It'll be the kick in the patoot that I need to remind myself that I'm supposed to be good with money.

     

    Speaking of kicks in the patoot, if you need some help motivating yourself to get going on that New Years resolution, then there's no better patoot-kicker than Larry Winget, author of People Are Idiots and I Can Prove It.  Enter to win a copy of your very own by posting a comment on this blog entry.  Good luck and happy New Year!

  • An Enormous Dichotomy

    The Mensch family is on the road.  There is nothing like a vacation to help you see the huge differences in economic prosperity in this country.  For example, last night, we stayed here:

     Photo courtesy DiscoverDuPage

    There is certainly nothing wrong with a Motel 6.  It offers cheap, dog-friendly lodging and wifi for tired mensches who need to write.  It is not, however, attractive.  There is a reason why no culture in the world has created the phrase "as beautiful as a roadside motel."

    After checking out of our temporary home, we headed down the road to this humble abode:

    George W. Vanderbilt's Biltmore estate in Asheville, NC was a slight step up from our evening's lodgings.

    Luckily, touring a house that takes three hours to get through makes me glad to get back to my own little Cape Cod.  Can you imagine what would happen if you spilled cheese dip on the 16th century Franciscan tapestry?  Major faux pas that I could never avoid making. I would, however, take a night at the Biltmore over another one at the Motel 6.  Because who has ever bragged about staying in room 105 of the No-Tell Motel?

     

    By the way, there's still time to win People Are Idiots and I Can Prove It by Larry Winget!  Enter to win by posting a comment on this blog entry.  So far, our first commenter has taken a commanding lead, but you can make the odds 50/50 by posting a comment today!

  • The $100 Beverage

    Friday evening, J and I invited some friends over for an evening of holiday festivities: eating latkes, lighting the menorah, and stuffing ourselves silly with cookies.  All in all, a very American celebration.

    When I was on my way out the door that afternoon for some last minute groceries, J showed me this recipe for Glogg, a hot Scandinavian brew of which he has fond memories.  J was first introduced to Glogg when his best friend used it as an enticement to get J to help him re-wire his (unheated) garage on a cold Saturday afternoon several winters ago.  Of that particular home improvement project, not much needs to be said, except that the guys stayed nice and warm and the garage needed to be re-rewired once the effects of the beverage had worn off--something like three weeks later.

    In any case, J thought there would be no better time to reintroduce himself to Glogg than when we had friends coming over, so he asked me to pick up whatever necessary ingredients we would need while I was grocery shopping.  Looking at the first three ingredients (Aquavit, burgundy and port wine, if you're not going to click the link), I said "We definitely don't have the booze and that right there is going to be expensive."

    J assured me he would pick up the three types of alcohol and spend his own fun money on it, as he would definitely get his fun out of it.  So I agreed to get the four or so other ingredients that we did not have stocked while I was at the grocery.  As I drove to the store, I mused that it was probably a good thing that the visiting friends were also across-the-street neighbors, as this drink sounded pretty potent.

    Once I reached the store, I took a gander at the price of cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, coriander seeds and blanched almonds and nearly had a heart attack.  Those bad boys were going to set me back over $30 total and we hadn't even purchased the booze yet.

    When I got back from the grocery store (sans cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, coriander seeds and blanched almonds), I was hardly out of the car before I started in on poor J.  He came out to help me with the groceries, and I pounced.

    "Do you know that this is like a $100 drink you want to brew?" I said, while still struggling with my seat belt.

    "Hello to you, too."

    "We're going to have to make do with beer tonight," I continued.

    I told him about the price of coriander seeds ($14.00 for a 2 ounce jar) and whole cloves ($9.00 for a 2 ounce jar).  He agreed that it was probably a good thing that he hadn't yet dispatched himself to pick up the alcoholic portion of the brew.

    We didn't tell our guests about the beverage they almost got to consume.

    I'm keeping an eye on the garage, just to be sure J doesn't try any wanton re-wiring projects.

     

     

    By the way, there is still time to enter the People Are Idiots and I Can Prove It book giveaway!  Just comment on this post to enter to win Larry Winget's no-nonsense and hilarious guide to living your best life.  At the rate we're going, the next commenter will likely be the big winner!!!*

    *Required Legalese: this sentence is an ironic commentary on the lack of commentary, and should not be construed as an actual expectation of the chances of winning.   But seriously, without any comments you're chances are pretty darn good.  The giveaway will go until January 9, when I will pick the winner.  Chances of winning depend on number of entries, but right now you're golden.  Void where prohibited and other legal sounding phrases.

  • The Crappy Charity Challenge and Book Giveaway!

    This seems slightly more creepy than charitable, no?

     

    Larry Winget has my number (despite the fact that I nearly wrote his name as Larry Wingnut).  He's the abrasive, caustic and hilarious author of People Are Idiots and I Can Prove It!  and he understands exactly why people don't live up to their potential.  He's identified the ten ways people sabotage their success:

    1. People are ignorant.

    2. People are stupid.

    3. People are lazy.

    4. People don't give a ***.

    5. People lack vision.

    6. People have low expectations.

    7. People don't recognize the consequences of their actions.

    8. People have bad habits.

    9. People have poor role models.

    10. People have no plan.

    I certainly am guilty of #3, #6, #8 and #10, particularly when it comes to running.

    If you're a regular reader of this blog, you will remember that I've made several references to running (or lack thereof) throughout the past few weeks.  I used to easily identify myself as a runner.  I ran a half marathon in 2007 and finished it in 2 hours and 38 minutes.  I trained for a full marathon in 2008, and ended up walking half of it because of a foot injury the day of the run.  (This experience helped me to decide that the half marathon is my event).  However, my running shoes have been gathering dust for some time and I have felt like the 26.2 keychain I carry is something of a lie.  A friend recently told me how he needed a negative consequence (that is, a stick) rather than a postive motivator (that is, a carrot) to get him to do things, and so he began the crappy charity challenge.

    In short, you choose a big goal for the year, and choose a charity you do not believe in to benefit if you miss your goal.  So for me, I am setting myself the goal of running 500 miles in 2012 (and that's running, not walking or loping or ambling or shuffling), or else I will have to write a $350 check to my crappy charity.*

    What does this all have to do with Larry Winget?  I'm glad you asked.

    Mr. Winget offers a great deal of no-nonsense advice about overcoming the obstacles you put in your way that keep you from the life you want to live.  While I have not met Mr. Winget in person, I suspect that he would love to see me motivate myself, no matter how comically, to do the things that I really want to do in my life.

    In honor of his honorary and straight-talking mensch-hood, Live Like a Mensch is offering its first ever giveaway!

    The prize: People Are Idiots and I Can Prove It by Larry Winget (a retail value of $25).

    Enter to win by posting a comment below.  I will choose a winner via random drawing on Monday, January 9 and notify the big winner via email.

    And since we're so close to New Years, why not motivate yourself to do great things in 2012 with a crappy charity challenge of your own?  Post about your challenge (and mentioning the name of the charity is entirely up to you!)  Larry would be proud of you.

    Stop back periodically throughout 2012 to see how I'm doing on my crappy running/charity challenge.  I'll be keeping a regular tally of miles run throughout the year.

    *Since one woman's crappy charity is another person's great cause, I'm going to keep my charity secret.  Needless to say, I would HATE to have this organization have a chunk of my money.

  • The January Fast (Really, This Time)

     

    As promised, today's blog will be all about Just Saying No to excess.  Just in time for the holiday!  (I'm a Jewish mother.  I'm a master of guilt.)

    For the month of January, J and I plan on going on a financial fast.  I've been wanting to do this ever since I first heard of money fasts earlier this year.  But just like planning the best time for a diet (I'm going to a wedding in July and I'll want some cake and I can't start a diet with Halloween only three months away and what's the point of dieting when there's all these Arbor Day treats around?), finding the right time for a financial fast can be somewhat difficult.  Add to that the amount of time necessary to convince other members of this household that we can go an entire four week period without spending money on beer (and I'm still not sure that I've won that particular battle), and it's taken quite some time to really commit to one.  But commit we have.  Here is our challenge:

    From January 1-31 (or thereabouts, we might end up doing a straight 28 day challenge) we will not spend money on anything that is not a necessity.  Wanton tickets to Seattle: off limits!  Milkshakes on days when ice cream is the cure for all ills: no more!  Impulse buys due to the fact that my son and I share the magpie gene: it is to laugh!  Stupidly easy purchases on Kindle, Audible or Amazon: no more for you, buckaroo!

    I'm not entirely sure how difficult this will be for me.  I know that I tend to overspend in two areas: food and gifts.  (And herein lies part of the reason why we're doing this fast after the holidays).  So one of the things I will be trying to do is month is avoiding grocery purchases for the month so that we can eat up all the odd cans of garbanzo beans and olives filling our pantry.  I plan to allow myself about $40 for the month for fresh produce and milk/creamer, since health (and its corollary, coffee) is not optional.  But instead of deciding that I can't figure out what to make with what we have and order a pizza or go grocery shopping, I'm going to reach down into the depths of my culinary creativity and make some truly odd meals.

    I also will stop treating myself to lunches out.  As a busy mom, I always make certain that I have enough food/lunch/snacks/juice for my son at any given moment of the day, but I sometimes forget to do the same for myself and will find my car making an unscheduled detour through a drive-through.  In January, leftovers will be eaten, pantries will be cleared, and perhaps my hips will return to a former state of svelteness.  (A mensch can dream, right?)

    My goal is to have $550 at the end of the month to send to our credit card in order to pay for an upcoming trip.  Even if we miss the goal by a little bit, I still think we'll benefit from learning new recipes, figuring out how to make do with what we have, and forgoing beer for a few weeks.  (Although I still haven't convinced various members of this household of the benefits of that particular sacrifice).  As they used to say in WWII, "Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do, or Do Without!"

    I'll be blogging about the fast throughout the month of January.  Please check back to see how we do.  Feel free to bet on how quickly we become feral without our usual luxuries.

    Will anyone else be starting 2012 off with a financial fast?  What will be the most difficult sacrifice for you?  What will you do with the money you're freeing up by fasting?

  • Whoops!

     

    "My bad!"

    Today, I had intended to write about our planned financial fast in January, where we'll be spending no money (other than bare essentials, and despite J's protests, beer will not count) in order to help pay for an upcoming trip in February to see family and to throw my sister a baby shower.  The flight for said trip will cost $550 and was not a part of our vacation budget, so we decided to find a creative way to pay for it without having to dip into the savings account for our next family vacation.

    I had intended to talk about my attempts to already get into the no-spending mindset and finding ways to make do with what we have, even before we start the grand month-long no money experiment.

    I had intended to wax philosophical about the cleansing nature of a financial fast and how I looked forward to truly understanding what I needed without spending money or creating waste.

    But then...

    After purchasing the tickets for the upcoming family trip, we decided to look up how much it would cost to fly to Seattle, our next vacation destination, for the week of July 4, 2012.  Just for giggles.  And after perusing several sites, we discovered tickets that would get the entire Mensch family to the Pacific Northwest and back for a nine day vacation for $873.60, a pretty darn good deal no matter how you slice it.

    The next thing you know, this supposed financial faster was whipping out her credit card and charging that bad boy.

    Theoretically, we'll be able to pay off both trips before the interest kicks in if we use our vacation fund (currently worth $750), the cash we've been picking up by selling our stuff on Ebay (more on that in another post), the money we'll free up by fasting in January (which I'll actually write about tomorrow) and a little creative accounting (meaning, robbing Peter to pay Paul).

    I know it will be worth it in seven months when I'm in the midst of flying fish and hyped up on the world's best coffee.  But my overwhelming emotion right now is "OOPS!"

    Apparently my road to Seattle is paved with good intentions.

  • Gambling

     

    I'm not much of a gambler.  I prefer to know for certain what will happen when I start any particular endeavor.  To be safe, I pretty much always assume that I will lose, which has kept me a confirmed non-gambler for years.  But yesterday, I took a huge gamble and won.  (If by won you mean "didn't lose or have it really bite me in the butt").

    I should start by explaining that my son is a Conscientious Nap Objector.  Naps go against his beliefs--beliefs that the moment he closes his tired eyes, his father and I spend our time doing fantastically exciting things that he will miss out on if he sleeps.  I know his beliefs are incorrect, considering the fact that J and I spend his nap/bed time working, taking care of chores and watching R-rated movies.  (Okay, he may have us on that last one).

    LO really needs two naps a day, but he refuses his second nap with all the willpower a 15-month old child can muster.  (Surprisingly, that's more willpower than an adult has at his disposal).  On more than one occasion, I have decided to take matters into my own hands and have driven a considerable distance so that the motion of the car will soothe my little protester into slumber.  Yesterday, after another afternoon of angst, I strapped the child in the car and started the second trek to the Trader Joes in Indianapolis in so many weeks.

    I had left the house and was waiting at the 7th stop light (of 11 or so, every single one of which is always red) between me and the highway when I realized that I had neglected to bring LO's diaper bag.

    Here were my choices:

    1. Turn around and get said diaper bag, meaning that I could conceivably be starting off an hour later than anticipated since each traffic light would turn red on the way back to the house and again on the way back to the highway.  According to Murphy's Law, opting for this choice would also mean that the child would not need anything resembling a diaper change for the next several hours, or possibly days.

    2.  Keep going and hope for the best.  Which, according to that self-same Murphy, would likely result in a diaper blowout of epic proportions since I would have nothing with me to help me deal with it.

    I decided to take my chances.  "There are diapers and wipes for sale in Indy," I thought.  "I'm sure it's fine."

    Oddly enough, it was.

    A few lessons from this experience:

    1.  I think Murphy has gotten tired of me.

    2.  If I'd been more worried about it, the anticipated diaper explosion would have been more likely to happen.

    3.  I'm now paying something along the lines of $85 in groceries and $14 in gas each time I need to get the child to nap.

    Photo courtesy of Jamie Adams

  • The Vagaries of Freecycle

    Despite the fact that I come from a long line of "someday I might be able to use that!" thinkers (in fact, I believe my grandfather was half-squirrel), I have recently discovered that I love nothing better than getting rid of stuff clearing clutter.

    To wit, I  joined Freecycle.  If you're unfamiliar with Freecycle, it's a "revolutionary" way to get rid of the things you no longer need--namely, by giving it to people who do need it.  (What won't they come up with next?)

    I am an enormous fan of Freecycle, since it keeps my random stuff from ending up in the landfill, but gets it out of my home once and for all.

    J is a little ambivalent about Freecycle because posting something for free brings out the vulture in people.  Back in Columbus, after it had become abundantly clear that the BowFlex taking up room in our office would probably continue to put together a truly fine collection of dust, I asked J to post the machine on Freecycle.  20 minutes later, I asked him to check his email.

    "Why?" he asked.  "I just posted it!"

    "Trust me on this," I responded, knowing that there's nothing vultures like so much as exercise equipment and furniture free for the taking.  And sure enough, we had already received more than 30 potential takers.  I considered this to be a win.  J wondered what the heck these people did with their time if they were able to see and claim a Freecycle item within nanoseconds of it being posted.  Perhaps it was the time they would otherwise spend exercising.

    Unfortunately, in addition to vultures, free stuff also tends to bring out individuals who seem to have some trouble getting their act together.  For example, we have a baby swing we no longer want.

    This swing is not Old Faithful, the swing that rocked us through a year of glassy-eyed sleeplessness before we (literally) burned out its motor--in other words, the swing we would like to have declared a national treasure.  No, this swing is the $20 yard sale replacement we purchased without realizing that our son was simply too big to get any use out of it.

    Since it's also not as good a swing as Old Faithful had been, we tried to sell it and then tried to Freecycle it.  I knew that baby items are like the Freecycle Holy Grail, so I was not surprised when I immediately had 10 responses.  (Lafayette is a smaller Freecycle community than Columbus.  10 responses is like 50 in Columbus).  I replied to the first interested party that the swing was hers if she could pick up within the next day or two.

    Crickets.

    I waited a day and responded to the next interested party with the same information.

    More crickets.

    It became clear to me that this would be a full-service Freecycle--post, contact and deliver the item.  At that rate, I might as well take it to Goodwill.

    It seems that if you are trusting to the vagaries of Freecycle to furnish your nursery, you may be experiencing other setbacks, as well, like lack of reliable transportation.  As frustrating as the repeated cricket responses was (I went through four or five interested parties that way), it made me very grateful for the fact that I don't personally have to rely on Freecycle.  It's easy to forget how lucky we are to have so much stuff we need to give it away.

    Yesterday, I received a hopeful email asking if the swing was still available.  I responded that the interested party could have it if she could pick up.  She said her husband would be by after 4.  Around 7:30, apologetic for being so late since he'd had to work late, the swing's proud new owner came by and picked it up.  I hope their baby uses it in good health.

  • How $3 Worth of Soup Cost Us $34

    The Mensch family is sick.

    The dear little petri dish brought home something particularly pernicious and mucousy from day care and has been kind enough to share it with everyone in the house.  We are finding that boiling ourselves in hot baths and showers seems to cauterize the snot, but there is both a limit to our water heater and our son's patience in waiting for us to get out of the shower.

    So last night, after trying unsuccessfully to find a can of soup in our pantry (I generally don't buy canned soup because the regular stuff has ridiculously high sodium, and the low-sodium stuff really needs salt), J suggested we order some Egg Drop soup from the local Chinese restaurant.  They deliver, and we could each have our own delicious steam bath to sip.

    J looked up the phone number online and encountered our first hurdle.  They will only deliver $15 worth of food.  So he added Hot and Sour Soup, Lo Mein and Beef with Broccoli to our order.

    45 minutes later, when our delivery boy showed up with the steaming manna from decongestion heaven, we discovered our second problem: that is, adding prices of various Chinese food dishes in one's head while said head is stuffed with snot.  The total had come to $22.03, rather than $15.  J had set aside a $20 bill for me to pay with, so I was scrambling to find another bill.  All I could find was another 20.  And then came the moment when the headcold from hell struck for the third time.

    I intended to give the guy $24 which would include tip.  But I handed over the two 20s and asked for $6 back.  It was a good hour later before I realized that I had probably given the best tip in the history of food delivery.

    It was worth it.

     

    Image courtesy Yasson

     

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