March 2012 - Posts - Live Like a Mensch
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Live Like a Mensch

March 2012 - Posts

  • Running Update #6: Sleep Deprivation and Athletics Don't Mix Edition


    Photo courtesy of Peter van der Sluijs, whose name I had to triple check that I was spelling correctly.

    If you recall from my previous running update, I had hoped to reach 108 miles by the end of March, thereby getting to 45 miles for the month and starting to catch up on my 500 mile challenge in general.

    Then, this happened:

    Except instead of being stretched out on a queen size bed, imagine that we're squished into LO's crib, and instead of both of us sleeping, imagine that I'm awake and being kicked in the head while LO fitfully sleeps wrong-side up.

    This will come as no surprise to any readers who have even given a cursory glance to my Mom blog The SAHMnambulist. I've got going on two years worth of posts, which can be summarized thusly: "The child won't sleep.  Isn't that hilarious?  Or perhaps this is the hysterical laughter of sleep deprivation.  It's hard to tell!  Ha ha!"

    In any case, in my attempts to get LO to sleep in his own bed, I've been going to join him when he wakes in the middle of the night.  I'm not a particularly tall person, but cribs/toddler beds were not made for adults of any stripe, and I've been waking up with scratchy eyes and cramped up leg muscles, not to mention a crick in the neck that could potentially be used as a method of extracting military secrets.  This meant I had two days sans running this week, and that I only ran 4 miles today despite my determination to get 6 total under my belt this morning.  Sadly, I'm 2 miles under my goal for the month.

    So, despite my hope to reach 108 miles today, I can only claim 106.

    Thankfully, there's still one more day in March, and I hope to make up those missing 2 miles, along with another mile or 2, sometime tomorrow.

    Here is the mileage breakdown for the second half of March (minus the 31st):

    Week of March 16-22: Three total runs--one 4-miler, one 3-milers, and one 2-miler.

    Week of March 23-30: Four total runs--two 4-milers, one 3-miler, and one 2-miler.

    My real hope is to be caught up on all of the missing miles by the end of June--so that I will have run 250 miles total at that point.  I'm such a geek that I spend the most exhausting part of my runs trying to do the math in my head to determine how to get there.  (It's a better thing to focus on than the recurring and overwhelming thought "Holy cow, am I exhausted!")

    How is everyone else doing on their New Year's Resolutions?

  • When Challah Goes to the Dark Side

    Over the past several years, I have been experimenting with baking my own bread.  It started because I have grandiose visions of being Martha Stewart, but I've discovered that it's not that difficult and the result is a heckuva lot tastier than the sliced stuff you can buy at the supermarket.  I hate being the sort of person who says this, but I find I can't eat the store bought stuff anymore because I can now taste the preservatives.  (It's hard for me to admit that because I have found myself wanting to force feed Dairy Queen to new converts to non-sugar diets who spend their time proclaiming "Even grapes are too sweet for me now!"  So if you sit me down with a package of Wonder Bread and tell me I can't leave the table until I'm done, I'll understand.)

    The final frontier in bread-baking, however, is the ever-elusive Challah.  Before I even started my road to sandwich bread snobbery, I tried and failed numerous times to get this delicious egg bread right.  As of earlier this year, I found a recipe that resulted in a beautiful loaf of hockey puck:

    I probably should have realized that this was not the Challah that would become family legend to my children and grandchildren.  The recipe came from the last page of Sammy Spider's First Shabbat, a children's book that details the adventures of a young Jewish spider enjoying Shabbat with his family.  (Sammy, by the way, is quite the busy Jewish arachnid.  You can also read about his first Hannukah, his first Passover, his first Simchat Torah, his first Tu B'Shevat, and on through the holidays, both well-known and obscure.  It's a lot of adventures for a creature that is, in fact, trayf.)  In any case, I've never known spiders to be the bakers of the insect/animal/whatever spiders are that aren't technically insects world, so I should not have been surprised when the Challah turned out the be basically inedible both times I made the recipe.

    But, I was bound and determined to find a good recipe that's not too difficult.  I turned, as one so often does, to the internet.  Allrecipes.com turned out to once again provide me with the culinary answer to a question I have been asking for years.  (Next time I'm looking for a recipe, I'm going to skip all that backing and forthing with spider cooks and just go straight to the Allrecipe source).

    I wish I could show you a picture of the beautiful Challah I created, but this happened to one of the two loaves I made before I had a chance to grab a camera:

    I know who is responsible:

    LO (and his agent J) had a little something to do with that "slight nibble" from one end of the loaf.

    Normally, this would be no problem, as I made two loaves, thus doubling the chance that I could take a beautiful picture.  Unfortunately, the other one seems to be Jabba the Challah:

    (If I had real computer skillz, I would have photoshopped a gold-bikini clad cinnamon bun chained to the bread into this picture, but I'm afraid you'll just have to use your imagination).

    Thankfully, despite this loaf's uncanny resemblance to an evil Star Wars character, I suspect it will still taste pretty darn good.  I just hope it survives until Friday night.  We're nearly finished eating the pretty one and there's still 24 hours to go until Shabbat.  Jabba, indeed.

  • This is Why They Invented Ebay

    I am married to a somewhat quirky man. 

    He respects quality products, which often means he looks to long-deceased companies for products that will stand the test of time.

    He appreciates recycling, which means that nothing useful is thrown out.

    He loves ironically positioning himself outside the ordinary by embracing the very things that would have once been a cliche.  (I might have mentioned once or twice that he proudly drives a 1993 Volvo 240--the ultimate ironic family man's car.)

    These three aspects of J's nature led to the following Ebay purchase:

    It is not enough for J to bring extra coffee to work with him.  He must have a thermos that is already nearly 30 years old, and he plans to carry this bad boy for the rest of his career.  (Those were his exact words as he admired the shiny shiny chrome).

    When I pointed out that J would have to avoid running over the thermos (a possibility in this house) or losing it (a near probability in this house) in order to keep it in circulation for another 30 years, he assured me with barely contained excitement that it could probably survive a car--although losing it is a real threat. 

    Tomorrow, J will head off to his office carrying his thermos of coffee by the handle for the very first time.

    I suspect he will whistle.  Ironically.

  • The Taxman Returneth


    I am the daughter of a financial planner.  As such, I've had the adage "adjust your withholding so that you receive a modest return" drilled into my head since I was knee-high to a grasshopper.  (I was always very popular at birthday parties, let me tell you.)

    I certainly agree with my dad's advice.  If you get an enormous return come tax season every year, you have in effect given Uncle Sam an interest-free loan of your money.  It's much wiser to collect that money via your paycheck and invest it or put it towards your retirement, so your money is working for you, rather than being held by the government.

    And yet...

    This year, J and I are receiving about $1500 back.  We're thrilled.  We've already planned four or five ways to spend that money.  Intellectually, I know it's our money that we already gave up once.  But it feels like found money.

    You know that moment of excitement you get when you put on a pair of pants you haven't worn in a while and find a $20 in the pocket?  That's what a big tax return is like.  Except times 10.

    Sadly, no compound interest tables will ever hold a candle to the excitement of found money.  I don't care how money savvy you are.  You can't look at a table telling you how much things will grow and get the same thrill you feel seeing the words "Your return this year will be" followed by a number with four figures.

    Which is why my father is kind of a modern day Cassandra, even to his own daughter.  I know that he speaks The Truth.  His clients know it.  Everyone knows it.  We all just prefer to get our found money in a lump sum, rather than let it be invisibly added to our net pay.

    That being said, we probably will invest our return, rather than use it for any of the frivolous purchases we've talked about.  I may ignore his advice when it comes to tax returns, but I did pick up a thing or two from the old man.

  • A Gardening Adventure


    Ever since the first time I read The Secret Garden when I was about 10, I've yearned to be a mother-of-the-earth gardening type.

    The problem is that I have zero natural gardening abilities.  I have the proverbial black thumb.

    It really comes down to how I manage the tasks in the time management quadrant Stephen Covey describes.  According to Covey, there are four types of tasks: Important and Urgent, Important but not Urgent, Urgent but not Important, and Neither.  I'm fantastic at handling all of these tasks--except the Important but not Urgent ones.  So, things like watering the garden, signing up for life insurance, doing laundry, checking my tire pressure, mopping the floor, and flossing all fall by the wayside while I'm meeting my deadlines, answering phone calls, and catching up on my favorite humor sites for hours on end.

    Because of my inability to prioritize the non-urgent important things in my life, I've often told people that I can only take care of creatures that can tell me they need something.  I once had a frog that managed to survive my care for over a year, despite the fact that I would forget about his existence for weeks at a time, meaning I forgot to feed him or clean his bowl.  (The poor thing must have been so relieved when I finally gave him away to someone capable of showing real responsibility).  I've actually managed to kill cacti through lack of watering.  Cats, dogs, babies, and other creatures that can not only make noise but also somehow physically get my attention are perfectly safe under my reign of benign neglect.  They are not shy about letting me know that they are hungry/thirsty/in need of waste removal, thereby making their needs both important and urgent.  But plants (and frogs in fish bowls, apparently) simply fall outside of my radar.  I don't remember their existence, and when I do, I know that I can water them at any point in a particular 24 hour period, meaning I don't water them at all, because it's never urgent.

    The sad fact is that these personal failings butt right up against my environmental and gardening yearnings.  I would love to be someone who cans her own marinara sauce from the tomatoes and basil she grew herself.  I'd invite a friend over for a dinner of eggplant parmigiana, and shyly mention that I had grown the eggplant and tomatoes, simmered the sauce from those tomatoes and my herbs, baked the bread that became the Italian bread crumbs, grew the olives from which the frying oil came from, and even milked the cows who provided the dairy for the mozzarella.  Apparently, my fantasies are very much inspired by Martha Stewart.

    And yet, each time that J and I have attempted any kind of kitchen garden, we've managed a couple of passable tomatoes and a few sweet peppers, while everything else has been a wash.

    But here we are, trying it again.  This weekend, the strawberry plants we ordered came in.  We cleared out a sunny corner of the yard, and then J went to town on it with our neighbor's tiller.  (In fact, J nearly had to be restrained from tilling the entire back yard, as he was having such a good time with a new-to-him power tool.  He could be heard muttering excitedly about the horsepower for nearly a half hour after he finished).  We planted the strawberries, and I have put a daily reminder in Google Calender to water them.  We have also started some melon and edamame seeds, and will soon be planting some herbs, peppers, tomatoes, and other necessities for a back yard urban farm.

    My suspicion is that I will have to treat gardening in the same way that I do the other non-urgent important tasks which I manage to accomplish: with stickers!  For example, each time I run or work out, I get a sticker on the calendar.  Perhaps I need a "Yay, you watered a plant!" sticker to help motivate me to keep this garden alive.  There's nothing weird about that, right?

    Because, at 33 years old, I'm clearly still a 10-year-old at heart.

  • Progressive Repairs in the House that Jack Built

    It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a young family in possession of a small windfall must be in want of some expensive home repairs.

    It started out innocently enough.  (That's how these things always begin.)  Seeing as we had a little extra in our budget, we decided to do something about the fact that our second floor seems to be in a different climate from our first.  The upstairs is quite chilly in the winter, while downstairs is doing an arid impression of a sauna, and the summer finds us fleeing the sweat lodge that is our bedrooms and seeking solace in the first floor office which actually feels air conditioned throughout the entire room, and not just when you are standing directly over the vent.

    J has been thinking that installing a whole house fan would be the answer to our problems--and it would be relatively inexpensive to buy and have installed.

    That, of course, was our first mistake.  No home renovation will ever be as simple and cheap as you expect.  After nearly seven years of home ownership and tinkering together, you would think that J and I understand this concept by now.  But of course home projecs cause the same kind of pain amnesia that labor does for mothers.  If you didn't forget how bad it was, we'd all be only children living in tents.

    When J ran the house fan idea by a contractor friend, he suggested we check out the duct work instead, as that was likely the cause of the north pole/equator difference in temperature between our two floors.  So, the intrepid Mr. Mensch armed himself with a flashlight and crawled around our attic for about an hour last weekend.

    What he discovered was rather depressing.  Not only do we have only about a third of the ducting necessary to share the temperate wealth of the first floor, there was at least one instance where there was no duct at all--just a big ol' hole through which the conditioned or heated air is supposed to travel to get to us upstairs.

    So, from a simple matter of installing an attic fan, we now have to find a way to install 2/3 more ducts.   This could potentially mean having to rip through walls, which everyone agrees is the definition of a summer of fun.

    Of course, there is always the quick and dirty solution of adding more insulation to the attic and throwing in a couple of window a/c units.  Considering the fact that I am married to a man who is committed to the adage "A job worth doing is worth doing well," I suspect that we're going to be in for some duct fun this summer.  (Just to give you some background on Mr. Mensch's commitment to home renovation done well, I'll share this anecdote:  When J bought our 1921 bungalow in Columbus, the hose faucet on the side of the house was original, rusted, not working, and a mess.  Most individuals would focus on the last three facts and head to Lowe's and buy themselves a new faucet for under $10 and be on their merry way.  J removed the faucet, blasted off the rust, cleaned the entire mechanism, repainted it, and rehung it.  Time investment: 1 weekend.  He couldn't have been more pleased.  "It's original!" he'd say.  He still doesn't understand why I use this story as an illustration of his temperament, which just proves my point.)

    Thankfully, our contractor friend is planning on coming to see the problem first-hand, and we'll know whether we're in for a minor job and maybe a couple of holes in our walls, or major reconstructive surgery of our entire house.

    Murphy's Law when it comes to houses dictates that I need to keep my mind completely clear of expectations.  Because the damage is always worse than you expect, so if you keep your mind completely clear, the house can't pull a whammy on you.

    That's a working hypothesis, anyway.

  • The Punctuality Time Distortion


    Photo of courtesy of paddy heron.

    I like to think of myself as a punctual person.  For the most part, I can get myself and my necessary accoutrements where I need to be within five minutes of the time I'm scheduled to be there.  (I believe that everyone should get a pass for those first five minutes, which drives the "if you're not 15 minutes early, you're late" types crazy.  So I try to be 15 or 20 minutes early every three or four appointments to make sure I get that five minute pass every other time).

    The problem with my punctuality, however, comes when I am less than 10 minutes from my destination.  At that point, there is some sort of space/time distortion wherein I believe that it will not only take me no time to get to my destination, but it will in fact become negative time.   The farther something is away from me, the more likely I am to be on time to get there.  

    For example, for the four years that I taught high school, I lived about a 25 minute drive away from the school, and I was almost always early to school.  The only times I was late were when there was some sort of traffic/weather issue that was outside of my control.  The secret: I gave myself 30 minutes to get to school, even though it only took 25.  Now, there is nothing remotely revolutionary about this particular plan.  It's how most responsible people handle the morning commute.  

    This ability to be on time to school came after a full year of failure to report on time to another job that I held at a Boys and Girls Club.  The problem was that I lived about five minutes away from the Club.  And that short distance simply muddled my thinking--I lived so close, I couldn't possibly have to hurry or plan my commute.  This facility operated as an after school club, and I did not have to be there until 1:00 in the afternoon every day.  So at 12:58 every day, as I was wrapping up lunch and my daily Law & Order fix, I'd think, "I need to get to work."  And from there I would go put my dishes in the sink, visit the restroom one more time, pet the cat, find my keys, and get in my car.  At that point, it would be 1:07, which was okay, because since everyone gets a pass for the first five minutes, it was only a little after 1:00, and since it took NO time to get to work, I was still okay.  When I pulled up to work at 1:16 every day, I would be genuinely surprised at how late it was.  Didn't I make up any time while I was driving?

    Currently, the Y where I run and LO goes to daycare is approximately five minutes away by car.  When I drop LO off at daycare, I'm supposed to have an hour to work out, and then I leave him there for another 2-3 hours so that I can work.  But between my five minute pass and the fact that I'm incapable of realizing that five minutes by car does in fact take time, I often find myself with a half hour or less for my run.  (I also find myself consistently late when it's time to pick LO up.  Because I can leave at 12:27 and still get there by 12:30 right?)

    This week, a lightbulb went off.  Theoretically, if I start getting ready for the gym/daycare fifteen minutes before I have to be there, I can be there with bells on right on time.  (Plus or minus five[ish] minutes).

    But add a baby to this mix, and fifteen minutes is not enough.  I need to start getting LO and myself and his diaper bag, lunch, sippy cup, spare outfit, extra diapers, wet wipes, books, snack, grand piano, etc, ad inifinitum, ready at least a half hour before we're due to be there.

    This has been revolutionary.  I've actually arrived at the Y somewhere in the neighborhood of when we're expected, rather than three or four time towns away.

    Perhaps I'll even get there fifteen minutes early sometime soon.



    Nah, that's ridiculous.

  • Practicing What You Preach


    I am finding the same problem is cropping up in two different parts of my life.  As a new parent, I am the first example and role model to my son.  So it's rather difficult when I tell him things like "No, honey, you may not have ice cream for lunch" when I'm busily scarfing down a chocolate milkshake with my gourmet fast food repast.  He's also a little wary of the "no television" rule when I often spend down time catching up on my favorite shows On Demand.

    There is a similar issue with my writing.  My freelancing bread and butter is doing writing for personal finance blogs.  I kind of fell into it by accident--I answered an ad looking for a personal finance blogger about a year and a half ago.  My editor so enjoyed my posts that he passed my name along to some of his friends in the blogging community, and strangely, a part-time career was born.  That's not to say that I'm not interested in/knowledgeable about/appreciative of money.  It's just not a subject I've specifically been trained in.  So, sometimes, I will find myself giving advice that I don't personally follow.  Like funding your retirement ahead of your child's education.  (I do both! she said defensively.)  I just get much more enjoyment out of depositing money in my son's education account than I do in my retirement account.  When I recently wrote about my lack of retirement follow through, I was seriously called on it.  And I do feel a little bad about advising people to do things that I'm pretty bad at myself.

    I could feel this happening again today.  I wrote a piece on what you need to do to improve your security while browsing on the internet.  In the interests of keeping my identity safe, I won't specify what it is I don't do that I probably should, I'll just let you know that I felt like the ultimate hypocrite who was going to go down in infamy when my identity got stolen because I didn't take my own advice.

    And yet, I can't seem to stop the hypocrisy.  My suspicion is that the same thing appeals to me about personal finance writing that appealed to me about teaching: I get paid to tell people what to do.  Even if I don't follow the advice myself, it feels nice advising others.  It's almost like a drug.  (Don't judge me!)

    Now if you'll excuse me, I need to tell my son that french fries are not a vegetable while I brush McDonald's crumbs from my shirt.

  • The Fine Art of Bagging Groceries


    Photo courtesy of Miropolitan


    At the risk of sounding like the late Andy Rooney, I'd like to know what the heck happened to the ancient art of bagging groceries.  It seems as though sometime in the past five years (coincidentally, the amount of time that I've been using reusable cloth bags, and with only a hint of smugness while I do it), baggers have forgotten how to appropriately bag $160 worth of food in plastic bags so that there are not more grocery bags than there are items.

    I speak from recent experience.  Yesterday, LO and I headed to the grocery store for an overdue full-on shopping excursion.  Since I had already run back to the house twice for an emergency diaper change and to pick up the grocery list, I decided to just not worry about my cloth grocery bags when I realized after our second false start that I had forgotten them.

    Usually, I request paper grocery sacks on the occasions when I forget my cloth bags--we use them for collecting our recycling--but my little shopping helper was showing signs of a potential meltdown when we got to the checkout, so I was doing a dramatic reading of Whose Feet Are These? right up until the moment I started unloading the cart, and I didn't have a chance to make my request.

    And I watched in resigned bemusement as item after item got its own plastic bag, or in some cases, got double bagged.  (Yes, I get it that chicken juice is a toxic substance akin to radioactive waste, but does the package of boneless skinless chicken breasts really need two bags?)

    I seem to remember being able to carry all my plastic grocery sacks in two arms back in the old days.  Granted, I wasn't shopping for a family of three back then, but still, I remember there being at least three or four items per bag.  Perhaps there used to be a bagging training that grocery employees needed to fulfill before they went out on the sales floor.  Back before grocery stores knew just how cheap plastic bags are to buy and use, plastic sacks were treated more like a limited resource, and it made life a lot easier for those of us trying to make it from the trunk of the car to the kitchen in one trip.

    I know that the stack of plastic bags I received yesterday will be used--for dog cleanup and diaper disposal--but I still feel as though I had at least twice as many bags as I needed.

    Even when I get paper sacks, I still find the baggers tend to under-fill the bags.  I know they're looking out for my tired arm muscles, but I'm stronger than I look.  The only time it seems as though the baggers are appropriately packing up my food is when I bring my own bags--because then it's entirely clear how few sacks are available for grocery transport and they're trying to get everything into the six bags I brought.  It's the difference between the "We have plenty!" mindset and the "Holy cow, we need to pack this stuff well since there's a finite number of bags!" mindset.  I'd love to see that second mindset even when I'm using the grocery's bags.

    Then again, it's entirely possible that I've just become an ornery old curmudgeon.

  • Loving a Cookbook to Death

    This weekend, I was, as Dr. Sheldon Cooper might say, on the horns of a dilemma.

    This is Old Faithful, my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook:

    I purchased this cookbook in 2001, when I was a recent college graduate with no money and no job and not a heck of a lot to do when my daily job search was over.  I had an apartment, however, and I was going to make full use of the kitchen, dadgummit.  (I had the full support of my roommate in this plan, I might add).  After graduation, I had decided that 22 was too old to continue to live on ramen noodles and peanut butter, even if that was about all I could afford.  So I went down to the local Barnes & Noble to find a basic cookbook that would help me master the kitchenly arts.  I remembered my mom's repeated use of the iconic red-and-white plaid BH&G cookbook, and so I decided to invest in one of those.

    Unfortunately, my budget could only cover the smallest mass market edition.  Even at the time, I remember looking at the flimsy cover and thin leaves and thinking "I don't know how long this bad boy will last."

    Apparently, I have my answer.  Eleven years after that initial purchase, Old Faithful is now officially in three separate pieces, not counting the pages that have come out (and then torn in half).  Luckly, those pages are for a lime zinger cookie, some sort of fish stew, and one other recipe I've never made and don't anticipate making anytime soon.  It's time to do something about my standby cookbook.

    And yet, I'm really proud of the battle scars Old Faithful is wearing.  I'm a messy cook, which is certainly borne out by the stains all over the book.  The cookbook falls open to favorite recipes, like roast turkey with stuffing, black bean soup, and meatloaf.  It's clear that this cookbook has been used and loved.

    Saturday, as I tried to find the correct page for pancakes (this is difficult because enough pages have fallen and been shoved back in willy-nilly that the page numbers are not necessarily consecutive), I realized that it was past time to retire the cookbook.  The problem that I have been avoiding dealing with for the past several years, is that Better Homes and Gardens, in its infinite wisdom, updates its recipes each time it puts out a new edition.  While I'm sure that the current edition's recipes are delicious, I want my cookbook and my recipes.  One gets rather territorial after an eleven year affair with a cookbook.

    I found myself wondering if I could laminate the pages of my cookbook and save it that way.  I actually mentioned this possibility to J, who managed to refrain from laughing, but he did not keep the "okay, crazy lady" look from his eyes.  Yeah, I know.  It would be a ridiculous expense.

    Then I remembered that I live in the year 2012, when any object you want to buy will be up for sale somewhere on the internets.  Someone will likely have a binder/laminate copy of the 11th edition and will be willing to send it to me in exchange for some moolah.  A quick Google search later, and lo and behold, there are several places where I can find such a thing, including Amazon, to which I just happen to have an unused gift card.

    Long story short, my brand new (to me) 11th edition Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook with laminate pages is wending its way to me as we speak.

    And yet, I have this sneaking suspicion that I'll keep grabbing my tattered Old Faithful until it completely disintegrates or some well-meaning visitor to my kitchen throws it out, thinking that it's trash.  I just hate to see an old friend thrown over for something shiny and new.

    That, and I don't want to have to learn the new page numbers for roast turkey, black bean soup and meatloaf.

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