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

December 2011 - Posts

  • An Mp3 Player Update

    The missing Coby mp3 player has turned up!  I was looking for a gift that bought several months ago and stowed away somewhere in the office, I think, when I shifted one of the pillows on our futon and found the Coby.

    Mensch like conclusion #1: I need to have more patience and look harder when things go missing.

    Mensch like conclusion #2: Until I become the sort of person who is organized, I should probably not buy gifts far enough in advance that I can lose track of them.  (Which in my case clearly means not buying gifts until I'm within 20 minutes of seeing the recipient on the gift giving occasion).

    Mensc like conclusion #3: I really have no excuse to not be running now.  Darn.

  • The Car Maintenance/Weather Matrix

     

    Yesterday, I noticed that my driver's side front tire seemed low on air.  Theoretically, this is one of the car maintenance jobs--like checking the oil level and turning on the car--that I am perfectly capable of taking care of by myself.  However, there is something standing in the way of my checking the tire pressure and refilling as necessary:  it's really really flipping cold outside.

    My car maintenance productivity is definitely tied to weather.  I have found that if the weather is far too cold or far too hot--or alternatively too wondrously beautiful--my car maintenance needs will simply not be taken care of by myself.  I will sometimes line up an alternative maintenance provider, like J, for example, but often I will simply hope that my discomfort (or joy) with the weather will rub off on the car and it will spontaneously fix itself.

    (Note: I have no evidence that this has ever occurred in the history of cars, but a mensch can hope, can't she?)

    In the interest of fairness, I should mention that I'm not necessarily great about the simple car maintenance that I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself even when the weather is ideal for car care.  (That ideal weather is best described as "meh.")  At that point, the maintenance job is "put on my to do list," a beast of never-ending complexity with plenty of room at the bottom for the things that I don't really want to do.

    All of this is why J is the individual in charge of cars in our household.  Otherwise, I'd be driving LO's Fisher Price car to the gym, and try strapping a car seat in that bad boy.

    No, it's far better that I have found and married a true car mensch who can keep my 13 year old Mazda Hoopty running.

    I just hope the tire doesn't go flat before he has a chance to look at it.

  • Biting Off More Than I Can Chew

     

    Image courtesy of Luca Masters, who is apparently braver than I am in terms of recording epic messes for posterity.

    The house currently looks like who-did-it-and-ran. The living room is covered in holiday cards and half-addressed envelopes, scraps of felt for this year's craft, and the usual detritus of a one year old's life.

    The kitchen looks as if a cookie bomb went off--although the shrapnel is delicious!

    Piled around the front door are Amazon boxes and Etsy deliveries, not even close to ready for me to add personal touches, wrap, and ship them out to far flung friends and family.

    Add to all this my usual inability to keep a house clean after about Wednesday of every week, and we are simply wading in stuff.

    Then, of course, there is the fact that J, the peanut, and I will be traveling next week, meaning I have even less time than usual to finish everything I want to do to spread a little good cheer, darn it.  Oh yeah, and we'll be seeing LO's grandparents over the weekend.  I'd prefer they didn't know that we are raising their grandson in squalor, so cleaning is something of a priority, along with all the other urgent priorities on the list.

    When J gently suggested over breakfast that perhaps he and I could spend an hour cleaning tonight after the child goes to bed, I had a genteel nervous breakdown.  Speaking around the paper bag through which I was breathing, I told J I was overwhelmed and would do everything in my power to have an hour free for cleaning this evening, but I really didn't know how to get it all done.  "I didn't have any down time yesterday," I wailed.  "I didn't even do any reading!"

    This, more than any other statement I could have made, helped J to truly understand the severity of the situation.  With a warm hug and a wish of good luck, J hightailed it to work, knowing that my brain on a fiction withdrawal is not something he wanted to stick around to see.

    I plan on starting an intravenous drip of Harry Potter later today while repeating the following mantra to myself: "It will all get done.  It will all get done."

    Because there's nothing more joyous than the traditional songs of the holidays.

  • Things That Should Be Tax-Deductible as a Childcare Expense


    1.  The gas used when the child abjectly refuses to take a nap and in frustration you strap him into the car and drive him to Indianapolis just so the motion of the car will lull him to sleep.

    2.  The cost of D-cell batteries, necessary for various vital baby items like the swing (for lulling the child to sleep), the talking truck (one of two toys that can consistently keep the child occupied for more than 0.05 seconds so that you can try to make dinner), and the breast pump (you probably know that that one's for).

    3.  The cost of Cheerios, considering the fact that the child does not actually consume them in the usual fashion, but instead throws them on the floor and then mashes them into a fine Cheerio mist which settles on every available surface in the house.  This does count as childcare because it is another option in the Mama toolkit that will help keep baby occupied for extended periods of time, like the amount of time it takes to wash my hands.

    4.  The cost of Barney videos. Barney is both childcare and torture, and I feel I should at least get a tax deduction, since it would provide my brain with a complex problem to sort out (that is, figuring out our deduction) which might finally force the inane and treacly lyrics to "I Love You, You Love Me" out of my brain. (Figuring out the deduction might also stop my fantasies involving a big purple dinosaur and a nice Louisville Slugger.)

    5.  LEGOs.  Let's face it, they cost more than real bricks, and they can lead to upwards of 5 minutes of interaction and engagement on the part of a one year old.  (LEGOs should also be considered for some sort of medical care tax deduction, considering a sleepy parent's likelihood of painfully stepping on them in the middle of the night because the LEGO architect neglected to put them away).

  • Money Savvy or Major Sucker?

     

    "Where's the money, Lebowski?"

    Yesterday, I yet again encountered one of those no win money situations wherein whatever decision you make will turn out to be WRONG.  (This is not that different from parenting.  You're always WRONG, there, too.)

    Our sweet greyhound has been scratching more than usual lately, and it has become clear to us that we have been hosting rather more creatures in our humble abode than we originally signed up for. As confirmed granola-chewers, we have a bottle of hippie flea shampoo, which I believe "works" by sitting down with the fleas and trying to determine what their path to self-actualization would be and then processing a method for achieving it.  Since the fleas are refusing to decamp despite the hippie shampoo's message of "Come on, man.  Keep on keeping on," we decided that we needed better living through chemistry.  I was dispatched to Target to buy some Frontline.

    While standing in the pet aisle, I saw that Frontline was offered for the bargain basement price of $54.  Just below that was a product called PetArmor, costing a mere $26.  And below that--because Target wanted to make sure we could literally see the descent of the price--was a Hartz product for $14.  Each product offered three applications.  Each one promised to kill fleas dead.  And each one would clearly turn out to be the wrong choice.  Here's how:

    If I bought the $14 flea killer, it would turn out to either not work or be filled with even worse toxins, resulting in either a subsequent purchase of the $54 product or an emergency trip to the vet.  If I bought the $26 product, it would turn out that the $14 one would have worked just fine.  Or the $26 one would not work at all and I'd have to buy the $54 one anyway.  And if I bought the top of the financial line flea killer, it would of course turn out to be a waste because either of the other two would have worked just fine.  No matter which way I turned, this purchase would end up costing me in the long run.

    I stood contemplating this quandary for several moments before I remembered that I live in the future!  I pulled out my trusty cell phone, put in a quick call to J, and asked him to google each of these products.  We discovered that cheap-o flea killers are not safe for babies, pets, or other creatures you might care about, and don't necessarily kill off the fleas.  We further discovered that PetArmor is the generic name of Frontline.  SOLD!  (How on earth did we resolve these dilemmas prior to the internet?)

    So when was the last time you weren't sure if you were being money savvy or a major sucker?  Because it seems to happen to me on at least a weekly basis.

  • Murphy Strikes Again

    Photo Courtesy of Liam Dunn

    It seems that Murphy does not appreciate being made a fool of.  If you recall, last week I inadvertently used his law to my advantage when I purchased my brand new crap mp3 player (a Coby) to replace the beloved iPod Touch which had been missing and presumed dead for nearly six months.  Of course, that meant that the iPod turned up the day before the Coby was to arrive in the mail.

    The very day that I wrote that blog post, the Coby arrived and was duly unpacked from its Amazon shipping container and then left to sit on my desk for a few days because clamshell packaging and I do not get along.  (I have purchased an inordinate number of scissors in my relatively short life, and it is mostly clamshell packaging's fault that these poor scissors do not survive for long).  Though I now have two portable music players, I felt it would be a good idea to keep the $20 mp3 player so I could have one that I didn't worry about taking to the gym with me.  I looked forward to the weekend, as I would have extra time to load my new crap technology with my favorite running tunes.  (By the way, I personally have not had "extra time" on weekends since before I hit high school, and yet my brain persists in believing that the 48 hour window at the end of every week is somehow longer than it is).

    Saturday, the Coby sat patiently waiting for me all day.  "I have plans for you later!" I would lovingly tell it.

    Saturday evening, after hosting another young family for dinner, I sat down at the computer ready to have some fun with music.

    "J," I asked, puzzled, "have you seen my new mp3 player?"

    "I saw it on the desk earlier today," he told me.  As had I.  But the Coby was nowhere to be found.

    Between our son and the visiting little girl, we had four potential hands that could have shifted the happy, shiny plastic thing while the adults were wantonly enjoying a few moments of conversation that did not revolve around the burning issue of what the cow says.

    But the Coby is not in any of the obvious places where a rugrat might have put it.  I know.  I've checked them all.

    J keeps reassuring me that it will certainly turn up.  My concern is that it took the iPod six months to turn up.  Now that Murphy's just messing with me, I suspect we'll discover this particular item several years from now, once music technology has come up with a new way to listen to tunes.  "Remember these?" we'll exclaim to each other when we find the mp3 player, inexplicably lodged under a floorboard.  "Perhaps the Smithsonian will be interested in getting its hands on this Coby since it's still in the original packaging."

    In any case, I recognize that I need to be awfully careful now in what I say about Murphy.  He's likely to take the original iPod back now, as well.  So Murphy, I humbly acknowledge your superior skill and intelligence.  I'd really like to stop leaking mp3 players now.

  • The Calendar Conundrum

     

    I have a slight calendar fetish.

    Underlying this fetish is the deep and abiding belief that the only thing standing in the way of me and organization is the exact right product.  I inherited this belief from my mother, who has spent the better part of her adulthood searching for the proper containers to organize her life.  As her daughter, it's very easy for me to see that this way madness lies.  Containers only contain things.  They do not give you the divine spark of organization.

    I know with the fervent faith of the true believer that the secret to organization is the right calendar.  I know someone is producing this timekeeper.  I do not know what the perfect calendar looks like, whether it is a wall calendar, a page-a-day calendar, a book-style planner, or a virtual planner.  I have made it my mission to find this perfect calendar despite any possible negative consequences to my finances and sanity.  Because organization is just that important.

    In my youth, I would simply purchase or download any calendar that looked good.  Cluttering my disorganized past are many a late 90s and new Millennium calendar with nary an entry--purchased simply because stickers were included or because I like the cover design.  (Don't laugh!  Organization must be fun if you want to keep with it).  But since stickers and football playing kittens do not really offer a reliable glimpse into the utility of a calendar, I have found myself often purchasing false calendar prophets.

    So I attempted to be virtuous on Wednesday when my son and I took a walk around the local mall.  We normally walk at the park, where I spend little to no time thinking about calendars.  I find it ironic that I would not have even been available for calendar temptation except that the year inexorably continues through the different seasons.  Which calendars can help you track.

    But our local mall has a kiosk set up in the center of the hallway with calendars upon calendars vying for the attention of true believers.  I tried to walk on by, but an engagement planner created specifically for moms stuck out a foot and tripped me.  I had to stop.

    On the whole, this calendar appeared wonderfully useful.  It offers a tear-off grocery list/meal planning sheet for every week of the year, which serves two purposes--the tear off sheet means that you can always open to the correct date, and the reminder that you should be planning out your family's meals each week makes you feel guilty, which can save you a lot of time.  (It can be tough for a Jewish mother to know what she should be feeling guilty about on any given day).  And, it has stickers!

    At that point, some cash jumped out of my wallet and exchanged itself for the calendar.  I brought the calendar home, triumphant.  Perhaps this is the calendar that will finally make me organized!

    It is still sitting, pristine and sans appointments, birthdays, dates, events, and reminders, on the right side of my desk.

    It makes me happy to look at it.

    Perhaps I should try to use it...

    Nah, that's just crazy talk.

  • Travel Rewards...FEH!

     

    I have a long history of skepticism toward things that seem too good to be true.  I don't believe that anyone out there is truly interested in offering me something for nothing.  (And my enthusiasm for the show Burn Notice has reinforced this belief system.  My takeaway from that show is: never accept anything from someone who approaches you first.  It's likely that they're a spy posing as an answer to your perplexing problem.)

    One of my deepest held skeptical beliefs is that credit card companies will find a way to bilk you for money no matter how conscientiously you play their game.  So I have never been the slightest bit tempted by cash back, free airline miles or other credit card rewards, despite the fact that I know I can pay off my credit card each month and earn these "rewards" totally free of charge.  There Ain't No Such Thing As a Free Lunch, darn it, and I don't trust those credit card companies with their wee beady eyes.

    J does not share my distrust.  Earlier this week, he read an incredible story about a man who is literally traveling around the world for $418. Harnessing the power of credit card travel rewards, this man is able to have the trip of a lifetime for the same amount it would cost me to fly from Indinanapolis to Omaha.  Though my "Danger, Danger, Look for the Catch!" alarm was triggered by this story, I agree to do a little research into travel rewards cards to see if there is something that could help us get to the Upper Northwest and San Francisco and France and Egypt and any number of other places we dream of seeing that much faster.

    The research went something like this:

    Step 1: Google "travel rewards credit cards"

    Step 2: Scratch head as it is unclear whether "points" and "miles" are the same thing.

    Step 3: Discover that everyone seems to have good things to say about the cards that are linked to American Airlines rewards.

    Step 4: Remember the American Airlines is filing for bankruptcy.

    Step 5: Desperate for instructions, look up the cost of an e-book that explains how to use these travel hacks to your advantage, and discover that the ebook costs $49.

    Step 6: System overload of Emily's brain.

    Once I realized that we'd have to shell out 50 bucks for the ebook that tells us the secrets of how to do this plus the somewhere in the range of $100 per year fee in order to have the privilege of using these travel rewards credit cards, my skepticism wall came crashing down and there would be no more using of my brainpower to figure this out. 

    "Doesn't it make more sense to just add another $150 per year to our vacation savings and do this the old-fashioned way?" I asked J.

    J is not quite so grudging.  He would like to learn the game.  I think it's like the games at Las Vegas--even if you win, the house still wins.  Unfortuately, though I like to think of myself as an open-minded individual, my skepticism wall is such that it will not even allow me to think about how to do such things.  The skepticism wall activates the frustration reaction (which is pretty quick to the draw even without skepticism's help) and my brain starts searching for something (anything!) else it can do to quiet the disharmony in my head.  (This is the reason I have seen the movie The Village four times.)

    Do any of my gentle readers have some travel reward hacks that will not raise my hackles?  Because I really would like to travel more.  I just don't trust anyone who thinks a 23.99% APR is a reasonable idea.

  • Using Murphy's Law to Your Advantage

     

    "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong." 

    This is Murphy's Law, and we're all familiar with it.  It's the reason why you spill coffee on your pants while commuting to a job interview that's just far enough away that you can't possibly go home and change.  It's why your car stops making the strange grinding noise the moment you pull it into the mechanic's garage.  And of course, it's why telling your boss that you were late on Monday due to a flat tire means that you actually get a flat tire on the way to work on Tuesday.

    What you may not know, but all mensches understand, is that Murphy's Law can be used to your advantage.  For example, back when my mother both used to be a smoker and someone who rode the bus, she would light a cigarette when she was impatient for the bus to arrive.  Because of course the bus would pull up just as soon as she had finished touching flame to tip, meaning she had wasted the cancer stick.  Murphy's Law meant she couldn't enjoy her smoke, but since what she really wanted was to get to her destination sooner, she had outwitted that canny Murphy.

    Last night, I stopped by WalMart to pick up a prescription.  The nice motherly cashier working the pharmacy counter wasn't able to help me right away because she was busy writing down the UPC number of a loofah.  Every day, one of these loofahs would show up tagless at the pharmacy counter, and she or another pharmacy cashier would have to look up the number before putting the item away.  She was tired of looking it up every night, so she decided to write the UPC down and tape the note to the counter.  I told her that meant she'd probably never find a tagless loofah again.  She was just fine with that turn of events.  Smart cookie.

    As a long-standing advocate of attempting to thwart Murphy's destruction of my best laid plans, I should not have been surprised at the turn of events that occurred last night.  But it's one of the greatest Murphy and mensch coups that I have ever taken part in.  But first, some history:

    For Hannukah two years ago, my dear husband bought me an iPod Touch to make up for the fact that he had lost my beloved iPod Nano.  I LOVED the Touch.  I used it for everything.

    Fast forward a year and a half, and dear husband, the little one and I all went on a family outing to the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum on July 15 of this year.  (You may have noticed that we like cars a little bit in this family).  We of course brought the iPod with us, both for the tunes during the drive and the WiFi capability once there.  We used the iPod at lunch that day to look up directions, and after that point, my favorite toy disappeared without a trace.

    After tearing apart the house and the car and then calling the pizza joint where we ate to ask if there was anything worth $200 in their lost and found (unlikely, no?), we decided the iPod was gone forever.

    While J and I are certainly comfortable financially, we do not have the kind of discretionary income we once enjoyed when he and I were both working full time and the dear little resource- and time-sucker had not yet even a twinkle in our eyes.  So replacing the iPod touch was not to be.  I discovered that I could listen to audio books on my Kindle; I learned how to run sans music (or actually, I kind of stopped running); I went back to the pre-2009 state of not being wirelessly connected wherever I went.  It was a struggle, but I wanted to show my son how one shoulders life's burdens with fortitude and a stiff upper lip.

    Last week, I happened to hear NPR Marketplace's Kai Ryssdal interviewing a gentleman by the name of Thomas Hayden who had written an article called "In Praise of Crap Technology."  Mr. Hayden was extoling the virtues of his $20 mp3 player, which, while mediocre, performed the job it was tasked to do.  After some careful thought, I decided that the fabulous bells and whistles that Steve Jobs (may he rest in peace) had provided for me were not entirely necessary when what I really wanted was some tunes I could run to and a more portable method of listening to my audio books.  On Sunday, I placed an order on Amazon for a Coby mp3 player in blue (I got to choose the color!) and started tracking the package that is due to arrive sometime today.

    It should surprise no one that last night I shifted the futon in my office in order to get to the outlet the computer was plugged into--and I found my iPod touch on the floor.

    The conclusion?  I inadvertently used Murphy's Law to my advantage by purchasing my new mp3 player.  It was quite mensch-like of me to replace an expensive toy with a cheap one, so I clearly am smarter than that scoundrel Murphy.  (The other conclusion I have reached is that perhaps we should clean the office more often.  There were a few cat hair tumbleweeds keeping the iPod company under the futon).

    Unfortunately, Murphy may still get the last laugh.  Though I was thrilled to have found my iPod, a small part of me was disappointed.  I was looking forward to enjoying my new crap technology.  I couldn't wait to load the Coby up with my music and books.  What fun!

    And of course, when I mentioned this story to my mother (the now non-smoking mensch who first taught me about using Murphy's Law to my advantage), she reminded me of the family rule that one must not purchase items for oneself as of December 1st each year, lest one duplicate a gift.  So it seems as though it is now raining mp3 players in our humble abode. 

    I just hope Mom kept her receipt.

  • A Tale of Five Vehicles: Part 5, The Boring Car That Wouldn't Die

     

    We come to my current vehicle: a 1998 Mazda 626. 

    My husband absolutely hates this car, despite the fact that I'm somewhat attached to it.  His issue with the car: it's the anonycar.  I have literally inserted my key in other black four door sedans in parking lots because this car looks so much like every other car built in the late 90s.  When filmmakers 50 years from now make period pieces set in the early new millennium, they will people the background driving shots with as many Mazda sedans as they can get their hands on.  They will likely be using my own personal car in the background shots because this zombie car will not die.

    I personally consider these things to be major pluses.  Anonycars are not often broken into, since they blend into the background.  Zombie cars that cannot be destroyed despite your best efforts will keep you rolling even though you're embarrassed to be seen driving them.  (According to J, there is no greater automotive sin than a car that's boring as hell that will not die.  I disagree.)

    Usually, I love this 13 year old car and I'm thrilled that it's given me nary a problem in the five years I've driven it.  But sometimes my husband's antipathy rubs off and I find myself committing acts of wanton car lust.  I have lusted in my heart for the Honda Fit, the Subaru Forester, the Ford Fiesta and the Mazda 3. Considering the fact that I have owned five cars since I started driving at age 16, and I have had no brand loyalty whatsoever in that time, I feel I should move on to the Subaru when this Mazda goes to the big garage in the sky.  Unfortunately, that will probably not happen in this lifetime, which means I'll have to take the Mazda out back and shoot it if I want to move on to my next vehicle.  Which would probably just make the Mazda mad and not stop its forward progress.

    What I think is most telling about the reliability and boringness of this car is the fact that I have no stories to tell about it.  It simply works.  I get in, turn the key, and it goes--while getting decent gas mileage.  I'm not sure if I should be sad or proud of the fact that this is probably my dream car.

    (It's J's opinion that I should feel deep shame.)

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