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December 2012 - Posts - Live Like a Mensch
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Live Like a Mensch

December 2012 - Posts

  • The End of the Crappy Charity Challenge

     

    This afternoon I finished my 500 mile challenge with an 8 mile "run" at the YMCA, where I completed nearly all of my miles for the year. Much like when I completed my first half marathon in 2007, the end of the challenge was decidedly slower than the beginning. (I look like I'm standing on the finish line there, don't I?)

    I did, unfortunately, have to use the creative accounting in order to make my 500 miles. Technically, I only recorded 480 miles for the year, although I am certain that I completed more than 500 miles when adding in all of my cool downs over the past 12 months.

    Man, did this go by fast!

    Since I am sad to think that I will no longer finish each run with a little notation on my calendar about how many miles I have completed for the year, I've decided to take reader Bobi's suggestion of having an open-ended charity challenge in 2013. This year, I will choose a charity that I actually believe in, and I will pledge to send them $0.50 for every mile that I run. I'm going to aim for 600 miles/$300, but nothing bad will happen if I don't make it that far.

    Thanks to everyone for the wonderful support and funny comments through this journey! It's be a great year. Have a wonderful, happy and healthy 2013!

  • The Stupid Tax and Meter Karma

    Last night was our final night in Pittsburgh. After a rousing day of wandering around Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece Falling Water, J and I were in the mood to check out a Pittsburgh institution, Wholey's Fish Market.

    We were unaware, when we started off for our ill-fated dinner, that the Wholey's institution included an enormous wholesale warehouse along with the lunch counter/fish market that we were looking for. In addition, we did not discover until too late that the fish sandwiches are not available for dinner.

    So, when we saw an enormous building at nearly the right address with a giant neon fish emblazoned with the word Wholey's, we got excited and wantonly parked on the street in preparation for our delicious meal.

    Upon parking, we discovered that Pittsburgh has installed some truly cutting edge parking meters. These bad boys simply asked for our license plate number and the moola. We didn't even have to place a ticket on our dash board.

    Five minutes later, after having walked all the way around the enormous warehouse bearing Wholey's name, it became clear that we were in the wrong place. We asked a gentleman getting into his car where we had gone wrong, and he told us the place we were looking for was down the road--far enough that it was a bad idea for us to walk.

    As we got back into our car, I lamented the misused meter money (which wasn't that much, but it was the principle of the thing). J remarked that it was just a little bit of stupid tax.

    Then it hit him that Pittsburgh was quite smart in installing these new-fangled meters. Since the money we spent was only for a car with our particular license plate, there was no way that we could leave a little parking meter karma behind for the next luckless parker.

    Much as I truly enjoyed visiting Pittsburgh, the thwarting of our meter karma does make me go "Humph!" (Although, to be honest, it's really a smart plan for the city's coffers. I'd probably appreciate the meters if I lived there and were paying local taxes).

    J and I eventually found the restaurant and discovered that we would have to come back for lunch today. (Which we did. It was delicious. I'm still scratching my belly.) Thankfully, we had a lovely dinner elsewhere that had some unmetered parking spaces right in front of it.

    I'm hoping my meter karma hasn't taken too much of a hit.

  • Gorilla Glass, My Foot

     

    Photo courtesy of Sashataylor

    Last year, my parents were generous enough to give me and J an iPad for Chanukah.

    I had been drooling over this particular gadget almost as soon as it had launched, despite Steve Jobs's poor choice of name for it.

    J and I could not have been more thrilled with our gift, and we were quickly having multiple Rocks-Scissors-Paper tournaments each day to determine who got to play with it next. We learned the joy that is Angry Birds. It was suddenly possible for us to be connected wherever we went. It was glorious.

    Then, in February, tragedy struck. I managed to drop the iPad face down onto pavement. The results looked much like the above picture.

    I was sick about it. How could I have treated this much-appreciated gift so cavalierly?

    The news got worse when I contacted Apple and discovered that it would cost nearly the price of the tablet just to get the glass fixed.

    J, of course, came to the rescue. (As he likes to say, "The man with tools wins!") He did some research on some Mac Fan Boy message boards and discovered that it's quite easy for a mechanically inclined engineering type to replace the glass on an iPad. We just needed to buy the new glass, some new adhesive strips, and a prying tool.

    In short order, J had fixed our iPad to be as good as new. (In point of fact, he actually broke the first replacement glass while placing it on the device, which made me feel much better about having broken the original glass. After ordering a third glass screen [that is, the second replacement screen], in short order, J had fixed our iPad to be as good as new.)

    We also purchased an iPad case. Sadly, it was the kind of case that you have to take OFF of the iPad in order to use said iPad.

    Even so, the third screen lasted nearly six months before it was broken. This time by LO. The child pushed the (case-less) iPad off the edge of the sofa, cracking the screen.

    At this point, I was starting to believe that the claims about gorilla glass were a little overblown.

    Thankfully, the cracked screen did not impede our use of the device, so we left it unfixed for several months. We finally replaced that screen about a month ago.

    Guess what LO managed to break two weeks ago?

    That's why we finally broke down and purchased this bad boy:

    (Image source)

     

    That, my friends, is the $56 OtterBox Defender Series Case with Screen Protector and Stand for the New iPad. It encases the entire device in army-grade plastic, and is entirely toddler- and butterfingers-proof. Judging by the robustitude of this case, our iPad is now protected from nuclear war, zombie apocalypse, and poorly screwed-on sippy cup caps.

    Considering the fact that we are now on the 5th total screen for this iPad (at 32 bucks a pop), I'm wondering why the heck we didn't buy the case last December.

  • Ikea: The Place Where Romance Goes to Die

    Photo courtesy of Christian Koehn

     

    On Saturday, J and I visited the Schaumberg Ikea.

    Intentionally.

    With planning aforethought.

    You see, J and I had need of a new shelving system in our basement, and Ikea had the build-your-own furniture to fit the bill.

    The problem, however, is that Ikea can affect one's sense of proportion. It is the epicenter of nearly all home related couple fights that have ever been fought. (Indeed, the caves of Lascaux have several scenes of men and women unable to decide between Grundtvig and Florvalg side tables, as well as several images of men screaming in impotent rage at the assembly instructions. The problems with Ikea go back a long way). Happy couples step into the store, only to find themselves yelling at each other over DIY furniture. Suddenly, one's preference of Grundtvig over Florvalg brings up every incompatibility that has ever slightly annoyed either member of the couple, and magnifies it in a place that has no clear exit and will never, ever have in stock the piece of furniture you finally compromise on.

    (I have a little Ikea bitterness, if you couldn't tell.)

    Though J and I have visited Ikea on several occasions (this made our third in nine years), we have been able to avoid the Ikea fight, mostly because we both simply shut down and attempt to curl into a fetal position the moment it becomes clear that we are stuck in a place that thinks it's a good idea to wait to tell you something is out of stock and good luck ever finding it until it is too late for you to go back and find an alternative option.

    That, and we can both agree that Swedish meatballs and lingonberry juice are delicious.

    In any case, we decided to be more precise in our Ikea shopping this time around. No more wandering among the furniture, trying to decide the relative merits of Grundtvig shelving vs. Florvalg shelving when things are placed together in sets so that it is impossible to compare apples to apples (or shelves to shelves) so that you start thinking you've gone insane and you curl up on a Flardfull bed with a Smorboll duvet cover and cry and cry.

    No, this time we downloaded the Ikea catalog a week early and decided ahead of time what we wanted to purchase, so that with laserlike focus and determination, we still ended up wandering around the store for an hour and a half. Surrounded by bickering couples.

    I would consider this particular Ikea trip a success, however. Every item that we picked out actually happened to be in stock, which is a Swedish miracle. We found several storage items that will help us to organize LO's toys, J's garage (aka, his toys), our bathrooms, and our leftovers. LO enjoyed watching the glass elevator go up and down, and was better behaved than at least three other children in the store. We ate cheap meatballs.

    And since our current ride is J's 1993 Volvo 240, I could feel the car shouting "landsman!" as we drove up to the iconic blue and yellow store. (I suspect the 240 was proud to be able to haul all our Swedish booty home.) 

    On the down side, the cost of all that cheap home improvement/decor adds up. Particularly when Ikea does something like charge you separately for the storage bin and for its lid. (Not to mention the markup on ratchet straps you have to buy at the last minute when you realize your new shelving unit is resting far closer to your toddler's head than you would prefer, even though Ikea theoretically designed all of its furniture to fit into the back of the very car you are driving.)

    In any case, we came home laden with more than $300 worth of new stuff. I have told J that we must have said new stuff built, installed, organized, used, or otherwise put in place by the time he goes back to work on January 7. (Because that is the other end of Ikea's romance-killing schemes. You may be full of energy and ready to tackle your furniture building when you're full of meatballs and everything looks shiny and bright in the store. But the minute you get home, there are those shows you've DVR'd just calling your name and Ikea assembly instructions only work if you're mechanically inclined in the first place.)

    So, since J and I have managed to get through a trip to Ikea with our marriage and our sanity intact, I'm hoping that we'll survive the assembly process, as well.

    To be on the safe side, however, I'm not planning on going back there for another two or three years. In any marriage, it really behooves you to space out these romance-killing moments as much as possible.

  • Envelope Budgeting For Two

     

    An old friend from college recently emailed me to ask a question about cash envelope budgeting. What happens, she asked, if you're in a two-adult household and one of the two of you is committed to the envelope system, but the other one is just sort of putting up with it?

    Unfortunately, there isn't a single perfect answer to this question. As I see it, there are three ways that budgeting can go in coupledom:

    1. The lockstep model. This is where both members of the couple are in absolute harmony when it comes to how to handle their money. They discuss every purchase over $5, agree on how much to put away for retirement, and take vacations to Disneyland every three years with their 2.3 children. These couples never have any arguments over money, and their beds are also always made.

    As far as scientists have been able to determine, this budgeting model has never occurred in nature, although some couples raised in captivity may have attempted it.

    2. The money expert/blissful ignorance model. In this budgeting model, one member of the couple will be more naturally inclined to handle the money, which means that this person is the one worrying about balancing the checkbook, preventing overdrafts, and paying the credit card bill on time. The blissfully ignorant member of the couple will leave the money expert to it, just glad to be free of that particular chore.

    This is how J and I handle our finances. Since I actually enjoy paying our bills, going to the bank, and balancing our checkbooks, I have proclaimed myself official family CFO/Money Empress/Goddess of the Automated Accounts. J does his part by letting me know when he puts charges on the credit card and staying out of my way. We have a financial pow-wow a couple of times a year when I apprise J of any big/new developments, or when he wants to see some of the nitty gritty of my daily number crunching.

    I suspect that most couples fall into this budgeting model, since in most couples there is one person who is more likely to care about the finances.

    3. The everyone is out for him/herself model. This is the budget model used by couples who don't have anyone in particular who cares for the financial chores. Each one will simply spend money whenever, without ever really having a good sense of how much is in their checking account and what they need to have set aside for their regular bills. (I guess this is the non-budgeting budget model). These issues can be compounded by the couple having a joint checking account, because each individual can assume there is money in the account when the other has just spent it all.

    If neither individual came into the relationship with any particular money skills or habits, this model is an easy one to fall into, although it certainly leads to arguments, tension, and those ridiculous "why did you buy that?" conversations that are love/romance Kryptonite.

    So, to answer my friend's question about envelope budgeting, finding a way to get a reluctant budgeter on board has to do with how much work each person is willing to take on. It's likely that the budget pusher (which is NOT something they need to make after-school specials about) will have to take on some extra work and be willing to become the money expert in the relationship. But, the reluctant budgeter also has to be willing to try new things just to see if they help alleviate any money stress.

    In J's and my case, I spend quite a bit of time on our budget, and we don't even adhere strictly to it. (As a side note, I think what really makes our budget work is our savings accounts. In addition to our cash envelopes, we put money aside each and every month for various spending categories, and we do not touch those accounts. That means we have the cash set aside for whatever type of big spending comes up, whether that's a vacation or our synagogue membership dues or buying a replacement computer or car or doing work on the house. So our monthly budget doesn't ever have to cover something "unexpected," which means we have wiggle room in our envelope system.)

    Since I truly enjoy messing with the numbers and J is happy to let me do that, our expertise/ignorance model really works for us. But every couple needs to find the compromise that will work, even if it means that one person will be doing most of the heavy lifting.

    How do you and your spouse/POSSLQ/sweetheart handle two person budgeting?

  • Running Update #21: And Boy Are My Legs Tired Edition

     

    Like the man on the right, I may be slowing down, but I'm definitely not done.

     

    Here we are with 11 days left to go in 2012.

    Depending on how you count it, I either have 36 or 16 miles left to go.

    I'm thinking I'll go with the 16 count. If I decide to use that accounting system, I'll probably have this challenge sewn up on Saturday, before J and I leave for our trip to Pittsburgh (this was our non-showering at truck stops compromise for J's itchy foot syndrome). That means I'll go for an 8 mile "run" tomorrow and one on Saturday. (I'm putting "run" in quotation marks because I lower my speed to 4 mph instead of my usual 5 or faster when I go for super long jaunts.)

    So, let's look back on how I got to 464/484 miles as of the day before the Mayan end of the world:

    In January, a bad cold knocked me out for most of the first two weeks of the year. I finished the month with 27 miles total.

    In February, I managed to run 36 miles, for a total of 63 for the year.

    In March, I ran 43 miles--the first month of the year that I surpassed my original mileage goal of 42 miles per month. That brought me to 106 miles total.

    In April, I fell down on the job and only ran 16 miles. (I'm shaking my fist at my April self right now. Stupid night guy.) That brought me to 122 miles for the year.

    In May, I kicked it into overdrive and ran 61 miles, bringing my total to 183 for the year.

    Of course, I figured I'd rest on my laurels in June and only ran another 25 miles for 208 total.

    July was another "I have plenty of time!" month, with only another 16 miles added to my total--224. (What the heck was I thinking?)

    In August, I tried to harness my May energy again, and didn't do too badly--52 miles for the month and 276 total for the year.

    This of course meant that I basically took September off again, with only 19 miles for the month, because heaven forbid I keep a streak going for more than one month at a time. I was at 295 miles as we headed into October.

    59 miles in October brought me to 354 miles for the year. If I had been going for 400 miles total instead of 500, I would have been sitting pretty. As it was, November and December were clearly going to be a long, ugly slog.

    If I had split my miles up evenly between the last two months of the year, I would have run 73 miles in November and December. Instead, I decided to run a pathetic 46 miles in November, leaving me at 400 miles total and 100 miles left to run in December. Yikes.

    Then I started thinking about creative accounting. I have a quarter mile cool down with (almost) all of my runs. I skip the cool down on occasion, but I have done it more than 75% of the time. Since I have run 116 times this year, I figure that I can safely count at least 80 of those cool downs--for a total of 20 additional miles.

    In any case, since I last checked in, I've run an additional 48 miles, which breaks down thusly: one 3-miler, one 4-miler, four 6-milers, one 7-miler, and one 10-miler.

    As much as I'd love to get to 500 without using that "extra" 20 miles, I just don't see how it will happen with traveling next week. So, I'll be pleased to run my last 16 miles as two 8 mile slogs over the next two days.

    Then, I'm going to spend the week before New Year's taking baths and demanding foot rubs.

    I must say, however, that I am going to miss this challenge in 2013. I love the act of recording my mileage after each run and the sense that I'm working toward something. I don't, however, think that I'm going to do a charity challenge in 2013.

    So if you see me making any bombastic claims on January 1, please ignore me. I'll be drunk with the mistaken idea that a year is a long time.

  • Frugal or Foolhardy?

    Sometimes, a frugal individual can wonder whether their impulses are truly money- or environment-saving, or just ridiculous.

    J often accuses me of being the latter. For example, after baking more cookies than G-d on Saturday, he found me studiously washing the two sheets of alumninum foil that I had used over and over to line my cookies sheets before hanging the wet foil up on the refrigerator to air dry. "Excessive frugality much?" he asked, idly munching on a cookie. There were some further questions as to whether I would start saving bits of string or otherwise make like I'd lived through the Depression. I ignored him.

    However, I have recently had a frugal/foolhardy puzzler. You see, after more years of faithful service than I can remember offhand, this happened to our soup ladle:

    Yes, the plastic handle detached from the business end of the utensil, and since I do not trust the idea of placing adhesives on a tool that will come in direct contact with my food, that handle is deader'n a doornail.

    Most people would simply throw out the ladle and purchase a new one. We certainly got our money's worth out of the thing, and it's not as if they are expensive. But I am not most people.

    You see, I hate the idea of throwing away a perfectly good anything. And while the plastic prevent-you-from-burning-your-hand handle has shuffled off this mortal coil, the part of the ladle that is the utensil's raison d'etre remains. Why not just continue using this bad boy?

    As soon as I floated this idea past J, he gave me the "okay, crazy lady" look that he has perfected over the years. He was right. There was no reason for me to fret over the loss of this particular utensil, when we take out tall garbage bags of trash every third day from our house. This will not add unduly to our overcrowded landfills.

    So, the next time I was at Target, I picked up a new ladle:

    It was $1.25, and it fulfills its duties admirably.

    But of course, that is not the end of the ladle saga.

    Because there are two rational and intelligent methods for dealing with a handle-less ladle problem:

    1. Keep the ladle because you do not want to waste something that is still usable.

    or

    2. Buy a new ladle, because life is too short to burn your hand serving up stew.

    And yet, I have managed to find a third option:

    Yes, despite the fact that I purchased a replacement, I just cannot bring myself to throw out the old one.

    I should probably get ready for all the inch long pieces of string I'm going to start saving, shouldn't I?

     

    Update: As soon as I finished writing this post, J threw the old ladle in the recycling bin, reminding me of the fact that I want to declutter the house. We'll see how long it takes me until I go recycling-bin diving to retrieve it. I'm thinking no more than 30 minutes.

  • The Cookie Conundrum and My Holiday Stealth Cookies

     

    Image courtesy of Fagles, because it didn't occur to me to take any pictures of the 30,487 cookies I personally baked.

     

    This happens every year. The holidays somehow manage to sneak up on me, and I find myself the week after Chanukah putting together our yearly holiday card, wrapping and shipping gifts, and baking more cookies than the average tree-dwelling elf could manage to crank out in a day.

    It is about those cookies that I would like to talk today.

    Because there is a real problem with cookies after a certain point in your life. Up until about age 22 or so, receiving a large package of cookies in the mail elicits this reacion:

    "Yes! I'm going to eat all these cookies!"

    After age 22, however, there is a completely different reaction to the spontaneous arrival of cookies to your home:

    "Sigh. I'm going to eat all these cookies."

    I personally experienced this cookie conundrum a couple of weeks ago. After the Oneg Shabbat (food and drink after services) one Friday earlier this month, there was nearly a whole package of cookies left uneaten. The woman who had brought them insisted I take half of them home, because she certainly didn't want them at her house. J and I looked at each other, each of us dreading the fact that we were going to eat all of those cookies.

    Then we remembered that our neighbor's college-age brother was babysitting down the street, and we offered up the cookies to him. He was absolutely delighted at the idea of eating all the cookies, because his metabolism and/or stomach has not yet betrayed him.

    So, as a 30-something purveyor of holiday cheer, I have some really conflicted emotions about my yearly urge to bake more cookies than we have the tupperware to contain. I want all of my friends and family to know I'm thinking of them. And yet I fear that the cookie conundrum will strike, and they will curse me and my chocolate chip-baking ways.

    Luckily, my inherent disorganization and inclination to hurry may serve me well this year, for the cookies will in actual fact be stealth cookies.

    Let me explain:

    I baked all day Saturday, ending up with either eight or nine different batches of cookies. (I lost count). I packaged those bad boys up in festive tupperware and pretty boxes almost as soon as they were cooled, because otherwise J and LO and I might have eaten all the cookies. Sunday evening, I bought some padded envelopes to send out the cookies.

    Then, Monday morning, I asked J to address the padded envelopes, and I hurriedly started shoving boxes of cookies in each envelope, sealing them. I was in a hurry, you see, because we needed to get to the post office before we picked up LO at school, and we were already running a little behind.

    It wasn't until all but one of my padded envelopes was sealed that I realized I had forgotten something crucial: some sort of note included with the cookies to explain who they were from and that I was thinking of the recipient. Rather than try to find a way to re-open and then re-seal the envelopes, I decided that I would just be sending out stealth cookies this year. That way, my friends and family would either be pleased at the anonymous delivery of cookies that they would eat all of, or they could not know who to curse as they ate all the cookies.

    So, if you've received a random package of stealth cookies, know that I'm probably the sender. I'm thinking of you! Hope you have a happy and bright season.

    (And I want to tell you either you're welcome or I'm sorry, depending on where you stand on the cookie conundrum.)

  • AARP Magazine

    One of my guilty pleasures at the gym is reading AARP Magazine.

    (I'd like to point out here that I am currently 33 years old. Hence the guilty.)

    The thing is, AARP does some darn fine reporting of money/retirement issues, so I often get ideas for upcoming blog posts from my reading. The additional reading in the magazine is often surprisingly pertinent to my life, featuring interviews with some of my favorite celebrities (apparently they're all over 50. Who knew?), recipes, vacation ideas, and insight into the zeitgeist, inasmuch as the average AARP reader has his/her fingers on the pulse of current culture.

    Unfortunately, after reading yet another issue of AARP cover-to-cover, I have a tendency of getting off the treadmill worrying about things somewhat...prematurely:

    "Might I have strained my achilles tendon? Older runners have to worry about not overdoing, and I skipped a stretch..."

    "I lost my keys twice last week. Could this be early onset dementia?"

    "Should I have my Social Security paperwork filled out now, to save myself time in thirty years? It sounds complicated."

    I'm wondering if I need to balance my AARP reading with some days paging through Cosmo. Because having my brains leaking out my ears would theoretically be preferable to my planning my "imminent" retirement.

  • There Are No Words

    I, like many of you, am currently glued to the horrific news coming out of Newtown, Connecticut. I can't wrap my head around the terrible things that are coming to light. All I can think about are those children, those babies--their parents' babies. There are no words. There is nothing to say in the face of something like this.

    If you have small children who are watching along with you, one of my favorite educators in the world, Fred Rogers, has some excellent advice for helping children to make sense of the senseless: "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world."

    Please join me in praying for the families of the victims. We may not be on the scene to help, but we can be helpers all across the nation and the world nonetheless.

     

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