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January 2012 - Posts - Live Like a Mensch
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Live Like a Mensch

January 2012 - Posts

  • The Jelly Leg Phenomenon

     

    Photo courtesy of Dirk Ingo Franke

    I had hoped to report in today that I have completed 31 miles of my 500 mile challenge.  It seemed like a reasonable goal.  As of last week, I had completed 23 miles, and yesterday I ran a record-breaking four miles.  (By record-breaking, that simply means I hadn't run that far in more than a few years.  I don't think the folks at Guinness World Records would be particularly interested in interviewing a woman completing four miles at the zippy pace of 12 minutes per mile.)

    So last night, I figured I could run four miles this morning, and finish my first month of the year-long challenge with 31 miles under my belt.

    But I got on the trusty treadmill at the Y this morning, and my legs informed me that I was sadly mistaken.  "We don't think so," they said, distinctly enough for the other joggers and exercisers to hear.

    It was clear that I had jelly legs.

    I had almost forgotten about this phenomenon, as it's been several years since the last time I ran regularly.  Jelly legs strike after a not-particularly-long run and they make you walk the next "run."  But what's unfortunate about jelly legs is that you're unaware of having them until you go out for your run.  It's not like soreness, which is at least straightforward about keeping you sidelined.  When you're sore, every movement you make reminds you that you hurt.  But jelly legs is where your nether limbs go on strike.  You think you can have enough mind over matter to override their apathy toward running, but it's simply not true.  Because if you try to run on jelly legs, they will tip you embarrassingly onto the pavement or treadmill, which nobody wants.  And that's why speed-walked and watched Dr. Phil (baby beauty pageants!) this morning, rather than running the four miles I'd hoped to run.

    So, I've finished this month at 15 miles below my monthly goal of 42.

    I'm hoping that as I continue this challenge, I'll work back up to the 8 and 10 mile runs I used to take at least once a week so that I can get ahead in miles.  I'm also hoping that I can de-jell my legs by tomorrow, because I'd like to get some more miles in before the Mensch family's trip out of town this weekend.

    Because I'd hate to end up racing a deadline like I used to do in school, saving all my running for the night before the due date.

  • Breaking Our Financial Fast

     

    Well, we are officially done the grand experiement that was our first financial fast.  Saturday marked the 28th (excruciating!) day of denying ourselves, and we decided to finish the month a couple of days early.  We celebrated by having dinner at J's favorite Indian restaurant on Saturday night, and then driving into Indianapolis on Sunday to go whole hog at Trader Joe's. 

    So, without further ado, I'd like to recap our financial fast.

    Money Spent

    Week of January 2: $18 for groceries and $12 for pizza

    $30 running total

    Week of January 9: $109 for groceries

    $139 running total

    Week of January 16: $52 for groceries, $11 for Five Guys burgers

    $202 running total

    Week of January 23: $13 for groceries, $545 for Seattle lodging

    $760 total*

    *Total without the vacation spending, which I think is more to the point: $215

    Lessons Learned

    1.  You can make an excellent pizza at home without giving a major pizza retailer a jingle.  (More on my new favorite pizza dough recipe coming soon)

    2.  If the Chai you find in your pantry is 4 years old, don't feel the need to make an experimental cup before you throw it out.

    3.  It's REALLY hard to find a recipe that uses garbanzo beans that does not ALSO require other ingredients you do not have on hand.

    Bottom Line

    We went into this exercise because our credit card was groaning from overuse.  Our bill for February was $2100.  I generally budget about $1000 for our credit card payment each month, and thus far we have always been able to pay it off every month.  Between our money fast, selling a few things on eBay, and some creative accounting (meaning, I used money from one account to pay for something another account would usually cover), we'll be able to have that $2k bad boy paid off by February 8. We'll still need to be a little mindful of our money for a month or two to make sure the card does not get run up again because we're low on cash, but I think we can overall call this a success.

    Now the big problem is not going into a spending binge for all the things we realized we needed during the fast.  Wish us luck!

  • It's Hard Out Here for a Mensch

     

    One of the ways that J and I want to provide a good, menschly example to LO is by respecting traditions.  Like having a nice Shabbat dinner and then going to services every Friday night.

    Don't ask us how often we've managed to do either of those since LO was born.

    This morning, J and I agreed that we would go to services tonight, since it was 2011 the last time we went.

    As of 4:00 pm, however, energies were flagging.  On the phone with J, I was relieved when he expressed interest in just staying in for the night.  "But let's make sure we do Shabbat dinner," he said.

    I agreed.  Traditions are important.

    "Is it too late to make challah for tonight?" J asked.

    I should back up and explain that every Shabbat dinner needs to have three things: candles, wine, and bread--specifically the braided sweet egg bread called challah that is the most delicious bread you've ever tasted.  Both J and I grew up on the East Coast, where Jews were plentiful and challah rained from the heavens.  I didn't know anyone who baked their own challah.  It never occurred to me to try.

    Then, we both lived for the better part of a decade in Columbus, Ohio.  We were part of a slightly smaller community there, but one could still easily find challah each Friday.

    Then we moved to Lafayette, Indiana, where the addition of our little family made it possible for our synagogue to finally have two teams for flag football.  (I exaggerate slightly.  We have to wait for LO to get older before we really have enough people for two full teams).  The long and short of it is, there's not the demand for challah here that there was in either of the two places I've lived--although if everyone knew how wondrous the French toast made of challah was, you'd be able to find it in every grocery and convenience store.  So I have been experimenting with making my own.

    The two loaves above represent the last attempt.  While they look beautiful, they were dry and a little bland.  And they certainly take longer than an hour and a half to make.  So my answer to J about the challah was a no.

    "I could call [Local Bakery Chain]*.  They sometimes have challah," I offered to J.

    "Yeah, but isn't it only at weird times?" he asked.

    "No harm in asking."

    So, I got off the phone with J and was soon discussing the challah situation with a baker at [Local Bakery Chain].

    Me: "Hi.  Do you have challah**?"

    Baker: "Umm...Oh, do you mean holla?"

    Me: "Yes."

    Baker: "Yes, it's one of our January breads, but we're only making it on Thursdays."

    Me: "So you don't have any loaves today?  Today being Friday, the Shabbat, the day on which challah would be most in demand?***"

    Baker: "Nope."

    Sometimes it's hard out here for a mensch.

     

    *Name redacted because I'm poking fun at them.

    **The ch in challah is like the one in Chanukah and Chaim in that you say it with a slight gutteral K with the H.  Just clear your throat at the beginning of the word until you've gotten the hang of it.

    ***I might not have actually said all that.

  • This Cold House

     

    Thermostat photo courtesy of Vincent de Groot, who will know if you adjust it!

     

    I am an individual who is always cold.  It's a simple fact of nature that I will be rubbing my arms and complaining of a chill when it's 72 degrees out.

    J, on the other hand, not only does not feel the cold, but he is also of a frugal nature.  While I appreciate his frugality most of the time--particularly when it saves me from impulse purchases--his frugality regarding the thermostat has led to some pitched battles.

    I feel that a house should be set to 72 degrees, and that twice a year you should switch from heating to cooling in order to acheive this comfortable temperature (that still requires me to wear additional clothing or blankets).

    J feels that a house should be set to 62 degrees in the winter and 85 degrees in the summer.

    Several years ago, I calmly explained to J that while it is reasonable to expect an individual who is always cold to throw on a few extra layers in order to save money on energy and ensure that everyone else is a comfortable temperature, that my current method of handling the cold in the house--that is, leaving my parka on, even at bedtime--was a bit excessive.  J agreed to raise the temperature by a few degrees.

    These days, I'm the one at home all day, and I have a loose and liberal hand with the thermostat.  I wantonly raise the temperature to 67 degrees and I enjoy the freedom of only wearing three or four sweaters at a time.

    But then, we got our utility bill for the month.  It was higher than usual.  It was not a bad number, but neither was it a good one.  Discussions were had.

    The long and short of it is that I'm digging out my parka for indoor use yet again. 

    I wonder if I can effectively type while wearing mittens.

  • The Surprising Things You Find

     

    What's hiding under your clutter?

    It's really the little things in life.  I recently went through approximately 3 metric tons of paper clutter that has accumulated over the past several years.  In among the gas receipts, utility bills, pay stubs, birthday cards, tax documents, and empty envelopes was a $10 gift card for Coldstone Creamery my principal had given me as a thank you for chaperoning the prom during my third year of teaching.

    I was extraordinarily excited.  As J put it, it was like finding an ice cream sundae hanging out in the cushions of the couch.

  • Oops, I Did It Again

     

    This blissful photograph of the city I can't get out of my head is courtesy of Daniel Schwen.

    It is becoming increasingly clear to me that fasting and I do not get along.  I would be the one to tell Gandhi to go ahead and have a cookie.  I am the one telling the rabbi I feel faint at 8 am on Yom Kippur.   And I am the individual who put $545 on her credit card on day 23 of her "financial fast."

    It's Seattle's fault.  Ever since J and I booked our tickets to visit that fair city in June, I've been having a wonderful time planning and reading and imagining our time there.  So when I read about the website airbnb.com in this Daily Beast article, I decided to look into it for our trip.  Airbnb connects travelers with hosts who are willing to rent out rooms, apartments, guest houses, futons and tree houses (that's really a category!).

    Within moments of signing on, I found a lovingly restored Craftsman bungalow for just over $50 per night for the three of us.  We'd have a private room, get a chance to share the kitchen, and will make some new friends.  And there's a dog!

    I contacted the home's owner to make sure she's okay with a rug rat, and her response was so warm and welcoming, I went ahead and booked the house. 

    Of course, the cost of staying with our new friends will be a great deal cheaper than staying in a hotel for our 9 day stay, even if you don't factor in our ability to cook in our Seattle home away from home.  So overall it was a frugal decision to book our stay there.  (Can you hear the rationalization?  Because I certainly can).  I had to "borrow" money from another fund to pay for the booking, since the tickets to Seattle wiped out the vacation fund, but we'll certainly be able to pay ourselves back long before the trip.

    It's become clear, however, that my "Jump on that price, woman!" reaction is much stronger than my ability to fast.

    We have one more week of fasting.  My $40 food budget is in tatters.  I've officially spent money frivolously by booking a vacation rental much farther in advance than necessary.  We ate a shame pizza.  In terms of straight fasting, I'm not sure this month can be called a success.  But, there is good news.  We have been much more mindful about our spending, checking with each other before each purchase and making certain that we would immediately use anything we did buy.  And that mindfulness means we will be able to pay off our credit card at the end of the month.   Since that was our entire reason behind this exercise, I'd call it a pretty productive month.

    Look out Seattle!

  • A Saab Story

     

    The Ursaab, which is Swedish for "Our heritage is on the auction block!"

    J keeps himself abreast of all car news and happenings, and he mentioned last week that the company that now owns Saab will be liquidating their company museum to stave off bankruptcy.  This makes me terribly sad.  After 8 years with an automotive engineer and a lifetime of lusting after quirky cars, I know that cars are more than just transportation.  (Okay, not all cars.  My Mazda is just transportation.  But my VW Bug was a love affair.)

    This complete dismantling of Saab has been coming for some time.  And other than the fact that my aunt, uncle and cousins will now have to find a different brand to be loyal to, Saab's disappearance does not in any way affect me.  But I still feel a pang about it, similar to the one I might feel if the Mona Lisa or Winged Victory were to be sold to an independent collector. 

    I don't believe that cars are the same as priceless works of art. But take a long, hard look at the photo above of the Ursaab.  This automobile from 1946 was the very first Saab ever built and it represents the hope of a company that wanted to enter a post-war market after years of making war planes.  The engineers who designed it had no prior experience with cars and only a couple of them could even legally drive.  And yet those engineers created a lasting and beautifully designed car that is both quintessentially of its time period and also strangely futuristic.  According to the Wikipedia article on the Ursaab, this vehicle drove over 330,000 miles before it was retired, which (might) be more than I can say for my boring/utilitarian Mazda.

    I know that the Saab cars in the museum in Trollhattan, Sweden (a funny name if ever I heard one) will end up with people who appreciate them.  I know that in the scheme of things, it's not a huge deal that these cars will be sold.  But I think it's important that we take a moment to appreciate the beauty and utility of cars (or houses or furniture) that are well made.  In a slapdash world where everything is disposable, we should show some respect to beautiful old-timers that can still beat the pants off a modern whippersnapper. 

    We should all take the kind of pride in our work that the Ursaab's engineers did.

  • Everything's Cheaper in Indiana!

     

    Though J and I miss really miss Columbus, Ohio, there are some definite perks to living in Lafayette, Indiana.  The cost of living is much cheaper, for one.

    For example, it snowed a couple of inches yesterday.  J was relaxing with a warm(ing) beverage for a few moments after work before starting the snow shoveling that, according to the marriage vows, is his job.  Some kids knocked on the door and offered to shovel our walk and driveway.

    We are used to pint-sized neighborhood entrepreneurs.  In our neighborhood in Columbus, there was a young man who only came a-knocking when he was hard up for cash, and he somehow convinced us to give him $5 every time he took our dog for a walk around the block.  And once you've set the precedent for being soft touches, those knocks at the door just keep a-coming.

    So after our new young neighbor made his pitch, I turned to J on the couch and asked what he'd like.  J said he'd do it himself, and I broke the bad news to our budding businessmen.

    As I closed the door, I remarked, "Things really are cheaper in Indiana.  They only wanted $1.50 each."

    "WHAT?  Why didn't you say YES?!" J exclaimed.  Apparently, he had not heard the most pertinent part of the sales pitch.

    We have inadvertently stumbled upon yet another universal truth.  In addition to always saying yes when someone asks if you are a g-d, you should always let 13-year-olds shovel your walk for you if they only want three bucks for the privilege.

    I think I now owe J $3.

  • Time Keeps on Slippin' Slippin' Slippin

     

    Photo courtesy of  Paolo Bergomi, who has visually captured my daily time panic.

    One of the things none of the What to Expect baby books tell you is that the things that stress you out before you have children will either stress you out x1,000,000 once you have kids, or will fade away into the land of Why the heck did I ever worry about that?  For me, making sure that all pictures taken of me are sans glasses has fallen into the latter camp, whereas my constant paranoia about not having enough time to take care of things is most definitely in the former.

    Take today, for example.  Our house has been doubling as a giant toy/papers/shoes/what-the-heck-is-that-doing-there dump for quite some time.  With the additional writing I've been doing lately (yay!), I'm finding my time is rather limited for shoveling out the clutter.  So I decided to take today off from writing and use the little one's three hours at daycare as an overdue cleanup session.  I dropped LO off at 9:00 am, and immediately started tackling the laundry, dishes and toy-gathering when I got home.

    Except by the time I got home, it was 9:15, so I only had two hours and forty-five minutes to get everything done!  Already, the stress begins.  (And really, it was only two and half hours because I have to leave time to drive back to the Y.)

    While I threw a load of clothes in the washer, I was already making mental notes of how long everything would take, and realizing that there was no way I could finish in time.

    It was only 9:20 at this point. 

    Added to my (sort of) legitimate concerns about my ability to get everything done is my overwhelming optimism that I could probably knock out a couple of articles and maybe post some wares on eBay, bake a loaf or two of bread, and even get a little sewing done while LO was at daycare.  So the analytical side of my brain is screeching "Hurry!  There's NO time!" while the optimistic side is planning the lovely day I'll have getting ahead of all of my jobs and chores.

    Eventually, the optimistic side of me hears the analyst's dire warnings about the passage of time.  Instead of deciding that I've planned to do too much, my optimist side starts screeching that it will be impossible to get everything on my lovely, relaxed day done if I don't hurry my tushie up!!!

    That's about when my brain has a system failure and I end up spending 45 minutes reading Miss Manners advice columns.  (Rest assured, I feel guilty that entire time, as I'm letting time slip away from me.  But being a Jewish mother allows me to both keenly feel and completely ignore any guilty twinges that come my way.  It's a super-power).

    Someday, I may be able to find some peace in the fact that everyone gets the same 24 hours each day and there is only so much that can ever be done in that time.  Someday, I might be able to recognize when I've bitten off more than I can chew and just let some things go.  Someday, I may find that there is some grace in doing everything I can and leaving everything else.

     

    Today is not that day.  I suspect that even you can hear that subtle screech of "GO! GO! GO!"?  I must answer it!

  • Motivation

     

    Image courtesty of Nevit Dilman

    The local Y where J and I work out and the little one attends daycare is having a weight loss challenge for its members.  You pay $10 to join the challenge, then do a before and after weigh-in.  If you lose any weight at all, you're entered to win one of four prizes: Free family membership for a year (a $672 value), free family membership for six months (a $336 value), a $100 program credit, or a $50 program credit.

    This challenge is one of the many many reasons I love our Y.  I found myself considering whether or not to join the challenge (on the one hand, I'm not hugely concerned about weight loss, as I've already gotten down to my pre-pregnancy weight, although I'm no longer the same shape or consistency, but on the other hand, I can always use extra motivation.)  I know that if I sign up for this challenge, it would be the $10 I spent to join it that would really motivate me, rather than the possiblity of winning some really lucrative prizes.  And therein lies the truly brilliant nature of this challenge.

    That $10 represents what behavioral economists would call a sunk cost.  Once you've spent the money, it's gone.  Nothing you can do can get that money back.  But because we human beings are strangely irrational creatures, we don't want that money to have been spent in vain.  We're very loss averse.  Sometimes, that loss aversion means we make terrible decisions: we don't leave movies we hate because we've spent good money on them; we might stay in the relationship that's going nowhere because of the 2 years already spent with Mr./Ms. Wrong; we hold onto stocks that are tanking because we can't recoup our purchase price, even though we'll soon not be able to recoup ANYthing.

    What I really admire about the Y's use of sunk costs is that it is using loss aversion as a positive motivator.  Even though $10 is a negligible amount, I know this particular exerciser would think about that $10 every morning I didn't feel like going to the gym and every evening when the chocolate fiend struck.  I'd hate to be disqualified from the challenge just because I couldn't hold it together to lose a couple of pounds.  I would hate to have spent that $10 on nothing.

    For individuals who are able to think rationally about sunk costs (and there aren't a whole heck of a lot of them, if you can believe the behavioral economists out there), there is the further motivation of the prizes.  The carrot types would love to be able to win some great prizes in return for doing something they want to do anyway.  Someone at my Y has a very keen understanding of what motivates our behavior.

    As for me, I'm just enjoying watching an experiment in behavioral economics unfold before my eyes.

    When you have you let sunk costs determine your behavior?  Did you make good or bad decisions because of sunk costs?

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