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February 2012 - Posts - Live Like a Mensch
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Live Like a Mensch

February 2012 - Posts

  • Running Update #4

     

    Photo courtesy of Spaicecowboi, who apparently received an extra shipment of the letter I.

    I had hoped to be completely caught up with my goal of running 42 miles per month by the end of February.  As it's a leap year, I have an entire extra day to get my running rear in gear.  But things often don't go the way you plan, and two trips to Baltimore in February has left me at 63 miles today, rather than the 84 I had hoped to reach.  Doh!

    I have, however, been finding myself getting back into the swing of things, family emergencies aside.  Here is the breakdown of my mileage since my last running update: 

    Week of February 15-21: 13 miles, which I ran thusly: one 4 mile run, one 3 mile run, and one 6 mile run.  (The greatest thing about running 6 miles on any given day is that you don't have to do anything else that day.  If the long run falls on a weekend, you're good for a full 48 hours.  And other people will insist on making dinner, since you ran 6 miles.  It's awesome!)

    Week of February 22-29: 6 miles.  One 4 mile run last Wednesday and one 2 mile run today.

    Sadly, this means that I went from 15 miles behind my goal at the end of January to a full 21 miles behind my goal on Leap Day.  I have let go of the idea that I can make up my missed miles all in one month, however, so you will not see me exhausting myself with a 63 mile goal for the next month.  No, for March, my goal will be to run 45 miles total, so that I will slowly be catching up to my inauspicious January and February.

    I will say, however, that running has seemed to set off my metabolism.  I finally weigh the amount I claimed on my driver's license.  So I've got that going for me.

    The running update will be back on March 15.  Here's hoping I'll have run another 22.5 miles by then.

  • How Many Engineers Does It Take?

     

     Photo courtesy of Wlocka and the German Federal Government, apparently

     LO is a young man of very strong opinions.  One of those opinions is that he should get to sleep next to his mama--with possible access to a midnight snack from her.  While J and I have tolerated this opinion for a year and a half now, we are ready for everyone to settle down in their own rooms/beds.  (Which reminds me of a financial truth that no one tells new parents: the more you spend on a crib, the less likely it is that your child will spend any time whatsoever sleeping in said crib.)

    We have tried on several occasions to convince LO that his crib is the place to be, sleep-wise, but it has not gone well.  Often, we'll rock the young man to a state of drowsy contentedness, and then begin the agonizingly slow process of placing the momentarily content child in his crib without waking him.  This process is something like defusing a bomb, except that bomb experts have some expectation of being able to identify the correct wire to cut to save the city.  In our case, there was no correct wire.  Every time, we would end up with a screaming child and another night of co-sleeping.

    I have noticed, however, that if I can lie down with LO and get him to fall asleep, I am later able to get up and leave and do things that do not involve catering to the sleep habits of someone a fraction of my size.  Before LO and I left for Baltimore last week, a lightbulb went off.  What if the child had a toddler bed that I could lie down with him on?  Since our crib (used approximately 6 times total) is actually a convertible and came with a kit that converts it to a toddler bed, this transition from crib  our bed to big boy bed was a mere afternoon of construction away from occuring.

    Now, if you'll recall, J is a mechanical engineer by trade.  He works for a prestigious company (which shall remain nameless in the interest of keeping him employed there), and he used to work for a major foreign auto manufacturer.  He earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Rochester Institute of Technology.  He has spent the majority of his life since gaining manual dexterity in the pursuit of taking apart and putting back together engines for things.

    I explain all this to show to you how unexpected the phone calls I received from J on Sunday were.

    "[BAD WORD!]" he'd say by way of greeting.  "It's just a [BAD WORD] crib!  I should be able to figure this out!"

    After one of these phone calls, J decided to sit down and read the instructions from the very beginning.   Prior to this, he had been attempting to follow the instructions and illustrations as written, and was unable to make head or tail of the process.  So, thinking there might be a sentence that explained how we had the wrong instructions for our particular setup, J thought he should read each and every word published in the instruction booklet, including the ridiculous warnings.  ("WARNING: Do Not allow child to play with knives while sleeping in this bed.")  And there, among the illustrations that simply did NOT look like the parts that J had at his disposal, was the following statement, which I am not making up: "The conversion kit illustrations in these instructions are generic in nature.  The conversion kit you have purchased may not look like the ones illustrated; however, they all assemble in the same manner."

    I was able to hear J's scream of rage from 650 miles away.

    At that point, my dear engineer decided to just look at the parts he had and figure it out on his own, which he probably should have done in the first place.  I blame myself.  As a confirmed instructions reader, I probably have inadvertently trained him to follow idiot instructions.

    And this is why we need more people to go into technical writing.  Or at least, more competent people.

  • What Really Matters

    LO and I are back in Baltimore right now.  My mother--the originator of my inner voice that tells me to act like a mensch--is very ill.  Just after our last trip east, she came down with acute pneumonia and had to go into the hospital.  She has been in a chemically-induced coma for nearly two weeks, and it looks as though she will have a long and slow recovery ahead of her.  Thankfully, we received some wonderful news today.  After she made it through a minor procedure with flying colors, it became clear that the doctors can start weaning Mom off the sedatives so that she will be awake and aware again within the next several days.  I look forward to hearing her voice again.

    One of my mother's talents is stamping out crises without breaking a sweat.  She's got a big one on her hands right now, and I hope she'll be proud of how her family has pulled together to do the work she usually does.

    Sometime in the next couple of days, be a mensch and tell your family just how much they mean to you.  And if you need another way to show you care?  Take a moment to write down instructions or create an action plan for dealing with your finances should anything happen to you.  Having a concrete plan for dealing with your insurance, bills, and passwords is a small task for you, but it will make a big difference to your family in a time of stress. It's a mensch-like way to show your family how much you love them.

    LO and I will be back to Indiana and the mensch blog will be back to its usual shenanigans on Tuesday.  Until then, I'll be thinking healing thoughts for my mother while trying to handle this particular crisis with just a fraction of her natural grace.

  • Old Cars and Selfishness

     

    You may have read this recent report that Americans are keeping their cars for longer than ever, and that the current fleet of cars on the road is approaching 11 year old.

    I am reacting to this news in much the same way that I do to the yearly influx of new exercisers to my gym each January:

    "Yes, I think it's wonderful that you've become converts to the cult of (choose one: exercise/being environmental and fiscally responsible by holding onto a car longer), but darn it, this is my (choose one: usually uncrowded gym/method of getting a great car without having to pay a lot)."

    J and I have been having ongoing conversations about replacing my car, since Old Faithful is now 14 years old.  There's no sense that the Mazda is heading to the Big Garage in the Sky anytime soon (seriously, the thing is unstoppable), but J would like to see me in a newer and safer car.  We've had numerous discussions about upgrading me to a Subaru Outback or Forrester.  And though I would finally own a car that has been built in this millennium (seriously, I've owned five cars since 1995 and not a single one was built after the Y2K scare), we have no intentions of buying a new car.

    Unfortunately, other people seem to have the same plan.  Where once upon a time many good cars would depreciate like rocks seconds after they drove off the dealer's lot, making savvy car buyers like J and me quite happy, now people are starting to realize that buying used can be a good deal.  Which means it's now not as good a deal.  FEH!

    It is nearly to the point where we are considering buying a new car.  Not quite, but nearly.

    This is all moot, in any case, as we will not have enough money to replace my car with something really great (we have enough set aside for another hoopty should this hoopty go undercarriage up) for at least another year or two.  (Or more than that if we decide to go the new car route, since we refuse to have a car payment).

    I wish I could really be mad at all the people who are taking better care of their cars and finances (and health, for that matter), because it really is screwing up my plans.  But I guess it's inevitable that people will discover the wisdom of my ideas.  Such is the burden of mensch-hood.

  • Top 10 Reasons To Save Money

     

    As I hope you know, February 19-26 is America Saves week.  Americans in 2012 aren't great at saving money, unfortunately.  This flies in the face of our thrifty and frugal history, and I'm not just talking about our Depression-era grandparents who refused to throw out string and Cool Whip containers.  Once upon a time in America, Ben Franklin's adage "a penny saved is a penny earned" was how most Americans lived their lives.  If you need some reasons why to save, here are the 10 best that I can think of.  What can you add to this list?

    10.  You may be able to live in a cashless society at Burning Man, but most people aren't willing to barter an oil change for some of your hand-knit pashminas.  Put some money aside every week so you never have to fall back on your weaving skills to get by.

    9.  Nobody over the age of 23 really likes eating ramen noodles.

    8.  It's unlikely that the beleaguered employees at China's FoxConn factory are interested in paying for American retirement.

    7.  In the event of a zombie apocalypse, money will help to keep you alive and fighting another day.

    6.  Despite our lip service to respecting our elders, not many individuals are willing to put their money where their mouth is.  You're on your own for retirement.

    5.  Expecting your kids to help you out financially entirely depends on your kids.  (Hint: if they're living in your basement at age 43, it's unlikely this plan will work out).

    4.  It's nice to have a choice between a staycation and a vacation.  Because no matter how nice your inflatable kiddie pool may be, it will never compare with the beaches of Cabo San Lucas.

    3.  There really is a difference between sending your kid to an Ivy League school and dropping them off at Big Bob's House o' Learnin' and Pancakes for their freshman year.

    2.  It's still illegal to print your own.

    And the number one reason why you should save money?

    1.  We're Amurricans, durn it, and we're self-sufficient, independent, and hard-working.  I truly believe it's patriotic to take good care of ourselves financially.

    No matter what your current financial situation may be, find a way this week to put aside a little more money.  You'll feel good.  And yes, I believe you can hear the strains of the Star-Spangled Banner in the background.

  • The Emergency Continuum

    Photo courtesy of rampant, who wants your braaaaaains!

    When it comes to an emergency fund, the real problem is defining an emergency.  There is a continuum of the emergency definition that makes it quite difficult to determine if you really need to tap into that fund of extra cash.

    On the far end of the definition continuum, there is the "I was having a terrible day and these adorable Jimmy Choos were on sale for only $350!" emergency.  On that end, emergencies seem to arise on a regular basis, and the emergency fund gets quite a workout.

    Waaaaaaaaaay on the other end of the spectrum is the "Well, the zombie apocalypse will arrive in my town any day now, and I need a new transmission for my car so that I can escape. But zombies are slow moving and surely the public transportation will keep working.  I don't need to dip into savings for this!"  On this side of the definition, nothing short of currently having your brains eaten constitutes an emergency worthy of breaking that emergency piggy bank.  Because bank balances are a lot more fun when they're big.

    I tend to live on the "a zombie apocalypse is not really an emergency" side of the continuum.  I have often had to remind myself that I set aside money specifically so I do not have to worry when an emergency arises.

    So if you'll excuse me, I believe I probably ought to purchase some 2X4s to brace the doors and windows against the walking undead.  I might swing by the shoe store, too.  No sense in having my brains eaten while wearing ugly footwear.

  • Date Night in a Small Town

     

    On the whole, none of us in the mensch family particularly mind living in a town that rolls up its sidewalks at 9 pm.  Considering the fact that on most nights, you'll find all three of us mensches sacked out by 8:30 pm, a bustling nightlife is not one of our requirements for a great place to live. 

    The only problem with the smallness of our town occurs when J and I plan a date night.  Each month, the Y where LO goes to daycare offers a Parents' Night Out program.  We drop our kiddos off at 6:00 pm on a Friday night, where they will eat pizza, watch movies, and wear themsevles out for three hours--or, in the case of my son, push the Y's baby walker back and forth across the floor of the daycare for three straight hours.  The Y does this wonderful program for a mere $8 per kid.

    The problem occurs when J and I try to decide what to do with our freed-up time.  Dinner out is nice, but it hardly takes three hours.  Movies are out, since none of the local movie theaters have Parents' Night Out in mind and therefore offer no showings early enough in the 6:00 hour for us to actually see the whole thing before needing to pick up the kid.  Live music would be wonderful, but generally those shows start later--like at 9:00 pm--to fit in with the go-go-go lifestyles of the Purdue students who are more likely to show up than tired parents are.

    We have actually used Parents' Night Out to clean the house in the past, which I am not proud of.

    Tonight is February's PNO, and I've been wracking my brains trying to think of what to do with our free three hours.  My original suggestion of Dave & Buster's was met with enthusiasm from J, until we discovered that there is no Dave & Buster's in a 50 mile radius of Lafayette.  (J then suggested we go to Chuck E. Cheese instead, since there is one of those bad boys in town, but I don't think we're allowed to do that without being accompanied by a minor.  And the prizes are better at Dave & Buster's anyway).  When checking the events calendar at the local newspaper, I found again that the live music was either playing too late in the evening, or family-oriented.

    I suggested to J that maybe we could drive halfway to Chicago and back for PNO.  He laughed, but I wasn't entirely kidding.

    When the weather gets nice again, I'm sure we'll find plenty of outdoor fun to be had during our monthly date night.  But for tonight, I suspect Redbox or Netflix will provide our wild-and-crazy activity.

    But I draw the line at going to Bed Bath and Beyond for date night.  I have some standards.

  • The Cash Envelope Dilemma

     

    Photo courtesy of Psychonaught, whose dad apparently never taught him to put the smallest bill on the outside.

    For several years now, J and I have been paying for cash with things, using the Dave Ramsey envelope method.  The popularity of this method--where you get cash at every pay day and put it into specific envelopes for each purpose--proves that everything old is new again.  According to my dad (who did teach me to keep my singles on the outside of my money clip), my great-grandmother could never get the hang of banks and kept returning to her envelope system after each failed banking attempt resulted in overdrafts and other issues.  I can't imagine what she would have done with online banking.

    In any case, we quite like this system, as it makes it very easy to pay for anything we need, from dog food to day care to dishwashing detergent (although we also buy things that start with other letters, too).  When we first started the envelope system, we used actual letter sized white envelopes with the purpose written across the front.  It was convenient because we could bring the entire envelope with us when necessary, like when we went grocery shopping or ate at a restaurant.  But regular letter sized envelopes are made for speed and not endurance, and so we eventually decided to replace them with an expanding coupon holder.

    This is both good and bad.  Back when we were using regular envelopes, there would invariably be an envelope still hanging out in someone's pocket or wallet or glove compartment when it came time to dole out the next portion of cash.  So I'd either create a new envelope for that purpose (which would mean we'd have envelope twins and triplets hanging around, none of them with much cash in them), or I'd waste 20 minutes tracking the envelope down.  So it's nice that our new accordion files cannot get lost that way.  However, using the cash requires estimating how much you'll need and taking it from the particular envelope to go with you.  This becomes even more difficult if you have several errands.  Suppose you need to pick up a tool at the closest Lowe's, go grocery shopping, and then pick LO up at day care.  You'll end up with a pocketful of uncategorized cash that will NEVER become easy-to-return-to-its-envelope change, and so you spend a frustrating several moments looking for your receipts and a calculator, figuring out how much you owe each envelope, and then trying to find change from the other envelopes to place the proper amount back where it belongs.  Feh!

    The uncategorized cash problem also leads to the found money conundrum.  Going through pants pockets prior to doing the laundry (which I learned to do after a disastrous lip gloss incident), I will often find random money.  Sometimes it's wrapped around a receipt, which lets me know what the money belongs to.  But more often than not, the money is silent as to its origins, taunting me with the possibilities for its use.

    That's usually when I put it in LO's college fund:

    Once this bad boy is full, LO will be able to go to Harvard!  (To use the restroom.)

  • A Running Update

    Image courtesy of Nevit Dilmen, who seems to have been channeling the twins from The Shining

     

    If you're just tuning in, I lost my mind back in December and challenged myself to run 500 miles in 2012--or else I have to pay $350 to a charity I don't believe in.

    So far, I am finding the specter of having to write a check for the particular charity I have chosen (which shall remain nameless) has definitely helped me to get my rear in gear on days when I'm just not feeling the run.  Unfortunately, I still have not caught up with my 42-mile monthly goal after finishing January 15 miles behind.  My running in February breaks down thusly:

    Week of February 1-7:      3 miles (Oops!  Apparently, it's tough for me to stay on track when I'm out of town and panicking over a lost wallet).

    Week of February 8-14:    14 miles (I had two 4-mile runs and two 3-mile runs)

    All of this is for a total of 44 miles for the year.  I'd like to get caught up before the end of February, but that means I'd have to run another 40 miles before the 29th.

    (Those of you who know me personally, please try not to disillusion the Stretcher Community with your collective online eye-roll.)

    I am proud to say that I'm experimenting with speeding up my runs and extending them past my usual "Meh, I feel done" cutoff.  (Hence the multiple 4-milers).  Though I have always been in the ridiculously slow lane when it came to running--when I told my students that I ran a 12-minute mile back when I ran my first half marathon in 2007, they were sure I meant 12 minutes per two miles, since no one could be that slow--I've actually run a 10 minute mile in the past two weeks.  Granted, I decided to speed up to 6 mph just because I wanted to end the running session (because running faster=ending sooner), but I don't think it's a bad thing to use laziness as a motivator for greater feats of athleticism.

    With all my extra thinking time I have on my runs, I have also decided that I will choose a charity that I really care about to donate the $350 to when I complete the challenge. 

    And here I thought I was just a stick-motivator--but knowing that my actions can decide whether my hard-earned money goes to something I care about or something I can't stand makes me feel even better about every single mile.  I'm having some fun thinking about which charity I'd like to benefit from my 500 miles.  I'll post as soon as I decide, because my preferred charity will NOT remain nameless.

  • A Valentine's Day Post

     

    Photo courtesy of Johntex

     

    Other than the chocolate aspect of the holiday, I'm not much into Valentine's Day.  Don't get me wrong: the legend behind the day is pretty cool.  (Saint Valentine of Rome allegedly performed secret marriages among young Romans when the law of the land prohibited young men from getting married--the thinking being that single men made better soldiers.)  I am just deeply suspicious of any holiday that invites people to spend spend spend just to show how much you care.

    I miss the good old days when Valentine's Day just meant a lot of extra sugar and getting a chance to do some serious crafting with paper doilies and glitter.  It was a simpler time.  Not that I'm suggesting that jewelers in the 80s didn't run advertising campaigns that insinuated that your wife would leave you and key your car if you didn't pony up some diamonds on February 14.  I just didn't notice them.  Because I was too busy trying to figure out how to get glitter out of my hair.

    Instead of the commercial Valentine's Day celebration, I prefer to keep things simple.  I call up people and tell them I love them.  (Hint: this works better if the people you are calling actually know you.  Otherwise, you get a lot of hangups).  I take advantage of the free Hershey's kisses offered in public places.  Tonight, I'll make a special meal for my two favorite guys, one of whom will probably throw the majority of said meal on the floor.  Mostly, though, I take a moment to be thankful for the people I love.  As much as we should do that every day, it is nice to have a holiday, smack dab in the middle of the coldest month of the year, where everyone is taking a moment to reflect on love.

    But you all can have my share of heart-shaped balloons, lingerie ads, ridiculous jewelry, and pink and red cards.  I'll keep the chocolate, though.

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