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October 2013 - Posts - Live Like a Mensch
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Live Like a Mensch

October 2013 - Posts

  • Step Away From the Pending Transactions

     

    Online banking can be a bit of a mixed blessing.

    On the one hand, we are now able to pay our bills online on the day that they are due, track our spending, and have a legitimate reason other than email to get online at work.

    On the other hand, there was something to be said for only receiving a monthly statement, as it did not tell you about pending transactions.

    Allow me to explain.

    As I've mentioned before, I consider checkbook balancing and expense tracking to be something of a hobby. So during a slow moment yesterday, I logged onto our credit card account to see if there was any maintenance that I needed to do. 

    There wasn't.

    Then, since I don't know how to leave well enough alone, I clicked on the "pending transactions" page.

    And that's where the Defcon 1 level flip out began.

    You see, there were two unauthorized charges pending, and I am incapable of anything less than 0 to outraged in 2.4 seconds when I see something along those lines.

    I knew exactly what had happened with the first pending transaction. It was a charge for the hotel where the recently held Financial Blogger Conference took place. I had originally planned to attend FinCon this year, because pregnancy makes you insane and believe that attending a work conference with a five-week-old baby in tow is a realistic possibility. A couple of weeks prior to the conference, the insane optimism cleared itself out of my system, and I cancelled my hotel room. For some reason, the hotel still ended up charging my credit card for one night, during which time I did not stay there.

    Of course, I immediately got my righteous indignation on (I keep it hanging in the hall closet for just such occasions), and called the hotel.

    After 20 minutes of volleying between the switchboard and accounting and then waiting on hold, I was told that there was no record of the charge from their end. Basically, this charge was like the phantom dollar charges you sometimes get when you fill up your tank with a credit card--it's a place holder until they actually swipe whatever card was used for the stay. I was assured that the transaction would disappear within the next 24 hours. If I hadn't clicked on the pending transactions page, I would never have even known it was there.

    The second transaction was even more worrisome. It was for $125 from a pet store in Cleveland, Ohio. I called J to double check that he hadn't made any purchases of the sort, although I knew that neither of us had been in Cleveland, unless J has been taking road trips during work hours, which seemed unlikely. He was just as confused, and suggested I call the store to find out what was purchased--just in case we bought something we had forgotten about.

    Considering our recent experience with having a new card number issued to us, we were both concerned that someone had stolen our credit card information and was going on the world's strangest shopping spree with it. (I'm sure it's possible that identity theives might also be pet-lovers, but pet gear really does not seem like the sort of thing you'd go buy first with a stolen credit card.)

    When I wasn't able to get the store on the horn, I called our credit card. After 10 minutes of navigating the automated customer service line, I got an honest-to-goodness human being who was able to tell me that the charge had actually been declined. Apparently, someone had entered our old credit card number in by mistake, so our current number was still uncompromised and we were not going to be responsible for the $125 purchase. In fact, it should disapear within the next 24 hours.

    So, if I had not checked the pending transactions page, none of this would have happened, and I could have avoided spending over a half hour on the phone with my heart beating harder with unnecessary outrage.

    Fabulous.

    I would say that what I've learned from this experience is to STOP CHECKING the pending transactions, but I know that I can't help myself.

    And I've got my righteous indignation waiting patiently in the hall closet for the next time I mistakenly believe that I need it.

  • Why I Hate Digital Signature Machines

    The other day, I was running behind (as usual), because baby.

    (Which by the way, is the best of all possible excuses: "I can't do that, because baby." "I'm an hour late, because baby." "We forgot your 50th anniversary, because baby." People tend to be very forgiving of the "because baby" excuse--although it clearly doesn't last forever).

    In any case, despite my because baby lateness to pick LO up from Montessori, I stopped at our local Walgreen's to pick up some of the things we seem to always need, because baby. (Diapers, baby wipes, baby wash, etc, etc, ad infinitum). I was also picking up some photos of the baby that I needed to send out with thank you cards, because baby (all right, I'll stop now), so I went to the photo counter to ring up my purchases.

    I swiped my credit card and waited for the digital signature screen to come up.

    And waited.

    And waited.

    Said baby was getting rather fussy, and I was well aware of the fact that we were already five minutes late to pick up LO, and despite the fact that Montessori is just down the road from our Walgreen's, it is not close enough that time will run backwards if you go fast enough.

    I got the attention of my cashier, who seemed rather distracted, to find out if I needed to press cancel or accept or something to move things along.

    "Oh yeah," she said, moving at molasses-speed to come around the counter. "This machine can't take credit cards because it doesn't have a pen for the digital signature." She looked woefully down at my full bag of purchases. "I can ring you up on another register."

    Tightly restraining the punctual woman in my head who pays close attention to time and was already having a minor flip-out, I looked down at the rest of the registers in the store. Each of them had a line.

    "Could I just use a debit card instead?" I asked. My cashier nodded with relief, while the frugal woman in my head attempted to strangle the punctual woman in my head.

    You see, I get charged for using my bank card as a debit card. It's only a buck per transaction, but it's still incredibly irritating to have to spend money in order to spend my own money, particularly when it is free for me to use said bank card as a credit card transaction.

    As I walked out the door, my punctual inner self was beating up on my frugal inner self for not leaving early enough to actually do my shopping before having to pick up LO. ("Because baby" simply does not work as an excuse for the punctual woman in my head).

    Of course, this is just the most recent example of my annoyance at digital signature machines. But I have always had a hate-hate relationship with them.

    First of all, it's ridiculous that these machines are not standard across all stores. In some stores, you have to hit CANCEL to process a transaction as credit. In some, you have to hit OK. In others, the cashier has to do it for you. Get yourselves together, people!

    Secondly, I HAAAAAAATE that none of the touch screens are calibrated to make your signature look anything like your actual signature. (And that's when they're newly installed. If you sign your name on a digital touch screen that has already been through the wars and/or Black Friday, your signature comes out looking like the person who is trying to fake your signature had a stroke while doing so.)

    Although, it's not as if any cashier actually checks your signature against your card. My father taught me to write "Check Picture ID" in the signature line of my card, which happens approximately never.

    So all of this is why J recently came home with this receipt from Home Depot:


    He wanted to see if anyone noticed that his signature is a smiley face.

    No one did.

    Clearly, the security of having customers sign their receipts is uber-tight. It's more like security theater--we're all agreeing to accept that signing for a credit card purchase is necessary, when it's no more than a dance of outdated financial conventions.

    Perhaps instead of signature machines, we could come up with SOMETHING that makes more sense and will take less time than allowing us to write stroke-ridden smiley faces on poorly calibrated digitial signature machines (unless said machines don't have a pen attached).

    But don't ask me to come up with the solution.

    I can't, because baby.

    "Thanks for pinning this on me."

  • Cost Breakdown of My Favorite Fast Recipes

    J and I have a wonderful group of friends here in Lafayette who took turns bringing us dinner for a month after BB was born. (And as we were enjoying some of the delicious recipes provided by our friends, I remarked to J that maybe we should have a baby more often. He didn't laugh until he was sure I was joking.)

    For a month, we dined off of the generosity of our friends, and then off of the contents of our freezer (thanks to family who cooked while visiting, our overabundance of bagels, and a trip to Trader Joe's). We have now gotten back to the point where I need to be doing my usual meal planning.

    As I mentioned several weeks ago, cooking post-baby can be a bit of a chore, even for someone who normally loves to cook. Not only is it difficult to cook one-handed while juggling a baby, I also tend to lose my caffeinated momentum by about 5:00 in the afternoon, making it very difficult to face the task of cooking. Unfortunately, easy-to-prepare convenience foods tend to be both expensive and less-than-healthy.

    However, I have two go-to fast recipes that can be put on the table quickly, have (mostly) non-perishable ingredients that I try to keep on-hand, and are inexpensive. I know if ever I'm having a particularly tiring day that I can throw one of these two meals together in under 15 minutes:

    1. Meatball subs

    I only added this recipe to my repertoire recently, when J woke up one day with a sudden jonesing for a meatball sub. We happened to have frozen turkey meatballs, marinara sauce, and mozzerella in the house, as well as the tail end of a baguette, and our new favorite quick meal was born.

    Ingredients:

    • Pre-cooked frozen turkey meatballs

    A bag of about 30 of these cost me $7.50 last time I purchased them. We keep them on-hand to send for LO's school lunches, and we put 6 meatballs (aka one serving) in each sub.

    • Marinara sauce
    I can always find a jar for about $1 whenever I go grocery shopping as long as I am not brand loyal.
    • Mozzerella cheese

    This is the only ingredient that we can't keep indefinitely in the house, although we almost always have it available since we are a fairly cheese-intensive household. I can get an 8 oz package of shredded mozzerella for $2.50, and we generally put about 2 oz on each sub--meaning it does not look like the sub in the above picture.

    • Hoagie rolls
    I can generally get these on sale from the store bakery for $2.50 for six. I freeze them in bags of two as soon as I buy them so they keep for when a meatball sub day strikes.
    • Frozen vegetables

    This is not actually an ingredient for the subs, but I like to serve the subs with a side of something green so we don't get rickets. I like the steam-in-bag variety, which are usually $1.25 per bag.

    Total Time:

    15 minutes. I toast the hoagie rolls under the broiler while I heat up the meatballs in the marinara sauce, either on the stovetop or in the microwave. I then throw the meatball mixture on the hoagies, top them with cheese, and throw them back under the broiler to melt the cheese. During all this, I'm microwaving the frozen veggies. As long as I have remembered to defrost the hoagie rolls at least an hour ahead of time, I can have dinner ready in literally under 15 minutes.

    Total Cost: $14.75

    Cost per serving (six): $2.46

    Since we generally only get two to three servings from a bag of frozen veggies, the cost-per-seving is actually slightly higher, but this is still a very quick and inexpensive meal.

    2. Black beans and rice


    This happens to be one of J's favorite meals, which means I can pull off the "I'm such a loving wife that I made your favorite dinner" ploy, when in actuality it's more like "I'm so tired that I need to throw something together quickly or else just accept that we'll be eating fruit roll-ups for dinner."

    The nice thing about beans and rice is that it doesn't require a specific recipe. You really can just throw things together, provided you have beans, canned tomatoes, and rice, and it will turn out. For the sake of this exercise, though, I'll use this Cuban-style Black Beans and Rice recipe.

    Ingredients:

    • 2 cups brown rice

    I actually just use whatever rice we happen to have on hand. We can generally get rice for $4 for a five pound bag. There are about two cups per pound, so the rice for this recipe would come to $0.80.

    • 1 TB olive oil

    We always have olive oil on hand, and I generally can buy a 25 ounce bottle for $7.00. With two tablespoons per ounce, each TB costs $0.14. (Frankly, having done this calculation makes me feel like I should be stingier with my olive oil usage...)

    • 1 large onion, chopped
    You can get a pound of onions for about $1.29
    • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
    These tend to be $1.89 each, unless I can find a killer sale, or we can improve our pepper patch in the garden.
    • 5 cloves garlic, minced
    This is generally about $1.60 per pound.
    • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
    I already have this in my spice cabinet. So even though it's not free, I'm calling it that.
    • 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes with their liquid
    I can usually find this for about $1.
    • 3 cups (cooked) black beans, drained

    As I've mentioned before, I believe that any claims that it is possible to make dried beans edible are nothing but lies. However, even though canned beans are more expensive, you can actually eat them. 3 cups of beans would be about two 15 ounce cans. I can generally find cans for $0.60 each.

    Total time:

    As long as I remember to put the rice into our rice cooker approximately one hour before we'd like to eat, this recipe otherwise takes just about twenty minutes total, from initial sauteeing of the onion and veggies to allowing the beans, tomatoes, and other goodness to simmer.

    Total cost: $7.92

    Cost per serving (four): $1.98

    We will often add some garnish/toppings, like cheese, cilantro, or lime wedges, or some sides, like corn bread, which means this meal is not quite as inexpensive as it appears. However, considering the fact that I always have every ingredient available in our pantry and the fact that the meal comes together very quickly (and in only one pot, not counting the rice cooker), this is one of my favorite go-to meals for days when I'm wishing Alice from The Brady Bunch would come cook and clean and provide hilarious insight for me.

     

    What are your favorite "I don't feel like cooking and why isn't life more like a fershtunkiner sit-com?" days?

     

    Meatball sub photo courtesy of jeffreyw

    Beans and rice photo courtesy of Kimberly Vardeman

  • Avoiding Money Arguments

     

    "I just can't stay mad at you..."

     

    Whenever you have two distinct personalities living together in close quarters, there are bound to be disagreements on everything from the proper method of loading a dishwasher to the relative merits of Breaking Bad and Grand Theft Auto V. (Two guesses as to which one of us is the fan.)

    But the grandaddy of all potential arguments is over money.

    J and I have certainly had our fair share of money disagreements--and in fact, we may have taken some other couples' shares, as well. But at this point in our relationship, we generally are able to avoid money arguments--without simply renaming them "heated discussions." That's not to say that we always agree or that the house is lit entirely by rainbows. But we've gotten into a pretty good groove by following some important ground rules:

    1. We have fun money, and we're not afraid to use it.

    J and I each get fun money every month to spend however the heck we want. I tend to spend mine throughout the month on things like audio book downloads, office supply splurges, books, purses, etc. J doesn't touch his fun money for months at a time, and then spends a big chunk all at once on things like this video game steering wheel:

    Image source

    We each see the other's fun money spending choices as completely insane. Because I simply cannot comprehend spending such a large chunk of change on what amounts to a joystick, and J has often wondered if I have a secret goal of owning ALL the purses as some sort of bid for world domination.

    But since our fun money is ours to spend as we wish, our completely different values for spending it don't matter in the slightest.

    2. We encourage each other to purchase things that make us happy.

    This particular tip would not work at all if either of us were natural spenders rather than natural savers. But since we are savers, we can both be very good about talking ourselves out of purchases that we really want. For instance, I love doing crossword puzzles, and will regularly purchase New York Times crossword puzzle books to have on hand for when the mood strikes (about twice or three times a day at my peak). While these books are not expensive (about $9 each all told), I have considered giving them up on a couple of occasions when money was tight. At those times, J has pointed out to me that I'm buying many hours of enjoyment for my $9, which is totally worth it--an argument that I can easily forget when I get too focused on frugality.

    I will also cheerlead for J, as well, like when I told him that we could work together to save up for a long-distance motorcycle before he turns 40. He will often feel like his wants are frivolous when compared to the things we as an entire family need. Sometimes he needs me to remind him that we need a happy J, too, and that we can work together to make that happen.

    3. We talk about expenditures before we make them.

    I remember reading a while ago about a couple that did not make any purchases over $5 without first consulting each other.

    To be honest, I thought that was crazytown, even though the couple had instituted this policy because they were trying to dig themselves out of some serious debt.

    However, J and I do something similar. We make sure that we talk about medium and large expenditures together, even though the conversation is often just one of us saying "Okay, sure," to the other one. We also talk about how to allot windfalls, bonuses, and raises together, so that we're on the same page regarding where our money goes.

    4. We daydream together.

    One of our favorite road trip activities is listing all the places we'd like to travel to. We also forward each other articles about interesting destinations, great restaurants, upcoming events, and other fun stuff to do. That means we generally have our wants and needs aligned, and we have fun making plans for our money even if we have to say no to things now to be able to afford the cool stuff later.

    5. We have each other's back.

    It's vital to know what's important to your spouse and make sure they know that you are in their corner. While I know that J and I do this, the best example of this I've seen recently was from my brother-in-law David.

    While my sister Tracie was visiting last month to meet BB, her beloved dog Pixie started having severe back problems. To make a long story short, it became clear that Pixie would have to have an MRI to find out if she needed surgery--and that the surgery would cost over $5000. My brother-in-law was the one to take Pixie to the MRI which indicated that surgery would help, so he authorized the procedure without talking to Tracie.

    Basically, David knew that the poor dog was in unbearable pain, and he knew just how important Pixie is to my sister. Since they had the money, since David knew that Tracie would want to go ahead with the surgery, and since he knew that if they had the finance talk about the surgery beforehand that Tracie would feel guilty about spending the money, he gave my sister the gift of knowing that what was important to her was important to him, too.

     

    Doing all of these things doesn't necessarily insulate us from all financial disagreements, but it certainly does help keep me and J on the same page. Even if I'll never understand why he insists on putting bowls on the top rack of the dishwasher.

    How do you avoid money arguments with your spouse?

  • Things New Mothers Would Happily Pay Exorbitant Amounts For

    1. Hot fudge sundae delivery

    2. Spit-up repelling shirts

    3. Uninterrupted showers and bathroom breaks

    4. Someone to take pictures of your second child

    5. A clap-on style tv remote that will allow you to change channels when you are pinned down by a nursing baby and Hoda and Kathie Lee have just come on.

    6. Self-brewing coffee that requires no set up. (If it could also pour you a cup and add cream and sugar and bring it to you, that would be great).

    7. A third arm

    These are some million dollar ideas people. Let's get our best and brightest on them. If they can put a vacuum cleaner in a mini-van, anything is possible.

  • Saving Money Is All About Being Willing to Walk Away

    For Halloween this year, I decided months ago that I wanted LO and BB's costumes to be related to each other.

    My first thought was to have LO go as the house from Up and have BB dress as Dug the dog.

    Then I realized that just after giving birth to a new baby is not a great time to take on a major craft project, which is exactly what I would be doing if I were to construct a miniature, wearable Victorian house out of cardboard for LO. (And considering the child's anitpathy towards jackets and sweatshirts, there was no guaranteeing that he'd even be willing to wear the house costume, bunch of balloons tied to the dang thing or no).

    Then, I thought it would be adorable to have LO go as Max from Where the Wild Things Are, and have BB be a Wild Thing.

    Image source

    Not only does LO absolutely love the story of Max's sojourn to the land where the Wild Things are, but I knew that I would not have to make anything. I would simply have to buy a wolf suit and a Wild Thing suit.

    Unfortunately, wolf and Wild Thing suits do not come cheap. I could not find either for less than $35, and I am not willing to drop $70 (plus shipping) on infant Halloween costumes. (Although a part of me would love it if LO wanted to regularly wanted to wear his wolf suit, even if I could do without him making mischief of one kind and another).

    Then, inspiration struck in the form of a birthday present for LO. My mother sent the young man a fire fighter dress up set

    image source

    which he was thrilled to try out:


    Clearly, the family costume would be a pint-sized fire fighter with his tiny dalmatian puppy.

    All I had to do now was find a dalmatian costume for BB. I did a little checking in early September, and I was pleased to find multiple baby dalmatian costumes for about $12 each. 

    However, I did not purchase a costume at the time. Jewish tradition stipulates that you should not purchase anything for a baby until after he has arrived. While I certainly did not follow that superstition-based proscription with either pregnancy, I do have enough of a superstitious side that I felt uncomfortable purchasing something frivolous for the baby before he was born. Having the necessities to welcome a baby home is practical. Having a Halloween costume on hand for an as-yet-to-arrive baby seems like tempting fate.

    To make a long story short(er), it was October before I was able to return to my dalmatian costume purchase.

    And apparently, good prices on Halloween costumes are gone by October. Again, I was faced with the possibility of purchasing a $35 costume for what amounts to a photo opportunity.

    I was on the phone with my sister yesterday lamenting this fact while I also searched Amazon and eBay for options, because I heart multi-tasking. While talking to her, I found a couple of options that would set me back about $15, which I was somewhat okay with spending. Then I realized I'd be spending another $6 on shipping, and I said, "Never mind."

    My sister was really surprised. "No wonder you've got so much money set aside," she said. "You're not willing to spend twenty bucks?"

    Well, actually, $20 was the limit that I was willing to spend on this silly endeavor. The costume I was looking at would set me back $21--a difference that was enough for me to be willing to walk away. (And that right there was the source of my sister's incredulity).

    But the other problem was the costume I'd found wasn't exactly right. The dalmatian spots were brown instead of black, the costume didn't come in sizes smaller than 3-6 months, which meant BB would be swimming in it, and there was no tail, which seems essential for a doggy costume.

    Basically, I was willing to spend up to $20 for a costume that looked like my vision. Otherwise, forget it.

    After making some more incredulous noises, my sister suggested I just make the costume--which I had already thought of. (I wouldn't be able to do that for $20 or less, either.)

    Shaking her head at me (and I could tell even over the phone), my sister hung up.

    The thing is, I often make decisions this way. If I am in the market to buy something I want, rather than need, I am perfectly happy to do without it if I can't get exactly (or basically) what I want for the price I'm willing to pay. To me, that seems like an eminently rational method of spending money--and I know that my sister follows that ideal when it comes to large purchases. What stymies her about me is the fact tht I think that way about $20 purchases.

    But frankly, I can't turn that mental analyzer off. It just doesn't make sense to me to spend money on a non-necessity that isn't exactly what I want. I'll be happier keeping my money rather than trying to make do with something that isn't quite right.

    That said, I still did end up compromising a bit on BB's costume. I found this adorable creation for $12 (plus $5 shipping) on Amazon:

    Image source

    It's not exactly what I wanted. Again, I had to make do with a 3-6 month size, and I had hoped to find a pajama-style onesie with long sleeves and footies, in case there's a Halloween chill in the air on the 31st. And there's still no tail. But it has an adorable hat with ears, the right color spots, and it will be possible to layer it over BB's own clothes. Altogether, it fits most of my criteria, and it was less than my spending limit.

    But if it, too, had cost me more than $20, I would have walked away. Because not only is BB likely to spit up on it before we even get the camera set up, but the kids will look absolutely adorable whether or not they dress up together for their first Halloween as brothers.

    I am glad that I didn't have to walk away from this purchase, though. I'm looking forward to seeing LO and BB enjoy Halloween together.

     

    Do you walk away from unessential purchases if they aren't exactly what you want?

  • Observing Financial Desperation

    Yeah, I don't think adding brake fluid is going to help...

     

    As I mentioned before, BB (Baby Brother) was born late on Friday, September 13--but for various reasons which I will refrain from detailing here, we knew he was going to be arriving that day. I spent much of the day wondering aloud in the baby's general direction: "I donna suppose you could speed things up?"

    J and I also took several walks around the neighborhood.

    On one walk, we brought our greyhound with us and meandered around. A few streets over from our house, a little boy, who had been playing on his front porch where his mother sat frowning at a laptop, was delighted to make Obie's acquaintance. We stopped so the boy and the dog could get a good sniff of each other.

    That's when the mother came down from the porch and asked us if we knew anything about cars.

    J, ever humble (and cautious), said "I know a little."

    The mom went on to explain that her car--a Buick Park Avenue, which can be well nigh indestructible if well cared for--seemed to have at least one faulty brake line. The rear brakes were not working. The mother had added brake fluid, but it just leaked right out. She wanted to know if she would just be able to get away with replacing one brake line, or if she'd have to have the entire shebang replaced.

    J listened and gave her the opinion that it was unlikely that things were only bad in one area, because in an old car, if one brake line is corroded, it's likely the rest of them are right behind it. He also told her about what he suspected the cost would be for full replacement--about $500. The woman just shook her head at the number. He told her that she should probably get the car towed, as it was not safe to drive with faulty brakes.

    "My stepfather was going to drive it to the shop and use the emergency brake to stop," she explained.

    Except the Park Avenue is the sort of car that features a foot brake rather than a handlever for the E-brake, making it more of a parking brake than an emergency brake. J warned the woman that using that type of emergency brake in that way could result in the brake locking up, which is also incredibly dangerous on the road.

    The woman then got in the car and started up the motor so she could check something. J winced at the sound of the motor, since his keen engineering ears are able to diagnose car problems based simply upon their startups. (He's like the House of car problems). He told me later that the car probably wasn't worth the cost of fixing the brakes since the engine issues meant that it was irrevocably headed for the big garage in the sky.

    J tried to talk more to the woman about what she could and should do for the car, but the woman's mother emerged from the house and told her that they needed to get a move on. We were relieved to see the woman, her mother, and her little boy get into a different car to leave.

    As we continued walking, J and I both worried about this little family and their car problem. Clearly, the woman needed the car to be running and didn't have the money to get it there. She was thinking about doing things that were dangerous because she so badly needed the car. No car probably meant no transportation to her job, which meant no money, which was the problem in the first place.

    Not that I make a habit of offering money to complete strangers, but looking at her sweet little boy and worrying about him being transported in a car with no brakes had me wondering if I could offer to pay to fix them. (J was clearly thinking something along the same lines, except he was thinking about offering to fix the brakes himself. This is why he made sure to tell me--and himself--that the car was hardly worth fixing).

    The thing is, there was no real fixing this problem with the Park Avenue. When J and I have a car problem, that's all it is--a car problem. We have the money set aside to fix it, even if J does not have the time to fix it himself. We still know how J will get to work, how we will pay for groceries, and how to replace the money we spend on the repair.

    For this family, the car problem appeared to only be a small symptom of the bigger issue. Even if we could somehow make their car safe to drive, it would not solve their financial instability or their desperation. (Considering the fact that the woman was asking for help of random strangers trying to walk a baby into the world tells me she truly did feel pretty desperate). There would be another crisis looming, another fire to put out, another moment that made it seem as though getting ahead was simply impossible.

    J and I spent the rest of our walk talking about how lucky we felt--and how we hoped the woman would heed J's advice and refrain from driving the Park Avenue.

    Yesterday, LO, BB and I took a walk around the neighborhood, and I noticed that the Park Avenue was still parked in the exact same spot.

    I'm glad no one has driven it, but I can't help but worry and wonder about what the loss of that transportation means for the family.

     

    Photo courtesy of Mark Heard

  • Avoiding Food Waste When You're a Jewish Mother

    (Or, Why I Have a Metric Ton of Bagels in My Freezer and Enough Orange Juice in the Fridge to Fill an Olympic Swimming Pool)

    Eight days after the birth of BB (short for Baby Brother), we fulfilled the covenant of Brit Milah at our synagogue.

    In other words, we had a mohel circumcise the child in front of family and friends, and then we all retired to another room to eat bagels and socialize. (Yeah, it feels weird.)

    My theory is that the custom of holding a little reception after a Bris is a way to give the new parents something other than the circumcision to stress about. Not that it helps.

    In any case, I have now been involved in the planning of two separate Brit Milah ceremonies (LO's and BB's), and both times I have ordered more food than could possibly be eaten by the entire population of Indiana.

    I don't think this is entirely my fault.

    First, a Bris is planned, by necessity, by a Jewish mother. We're world-renowned for our inability to handle anyone going hungry, or even going less than stuffed-to-the-gills full.

    Second, generally, new Jewish mothers are related to other Jewish mothers, who are wont to advise the new Jewish mother to go ahead and add another dozen bagels, and another dozen cupcakes, and heck, why not another two containers of freshly squeezed orange juice, and have we ordered enough lox?--to the catering order. There were no fewer than four Jewish mothers involved in the planning of this Bris, which meant all of us were simply feeding off of each other's fear of not enough food. (Yes, pun intended).

    Third, traditionally, a Bris is not something to which you RSVP. It's considered a mitzvah (good deed) to attend a Bris, and so new parents will often simply announce the date and time of the Bris and everyone who can show up will, making it difficult to get an accurate head count ahead of time. While we did send out an evite and had a general idea of who would be coming, we also simply announced the Bris to the congregation of our synagogue at large.

    In short, we had enough food for about sixty people.

    We had about thirty guests.

    There were some epic leftovers.

    Of course, the extra lox and cupcakes were gone in a matter of days, because that kind of goodness does not stick around long. That was not the case for the three dozen leftover bagels and three unopened cartons of orange juice.

    So, the day after the Bris, we froze the bagels, made room for the juice, and we are now steadily working our way through it.

    The problem, for me, is that my innate desire to feed everyone and my overwhelming sense of guilt at wasting food are at odds with each other. I was certainly pleased to see that everyone had enough to eat at the reception. But seeing the amount of leftover food that J and I would have to eat in order to avoid wasting it all was a little overwhelming (and guilt-inducing).

    Add in my antipathy for daily consumption of white flour-based food, and there's a perfect storm of potential guilt.

    Luckily, J has no such qualms (on any front) and has proven his usefulness in saving me from myself on several occasions.

    For instance, there were quite a few breakfast pastries leftover after our post-wedding breakfast for our guests back in 2008. Since we were heading off to our honeymoon, there was no way we could eat (or freeze) the goods, so J gave the whole kit and caboodle to a friend--and advised him to just throw out what he didn't want. J also refrained from telling me about the imminent trashing of perfectly good food, because he knew I would try to fill our pockets with danishes to take on the airplane with us, and he preferred that we not start our honeymoon with a squabble over raspberry danishes and their relative importance in our packing hierarchy.

    J is also thrilled to enjoy a bagel and a glass of oj for breakfast every day, and will happily eat through the freezer stash until it's all gone. (I understand that in a few short years, I will not only have J, but also two teenaged boys who will be willing to take that hit in order to alleviate Mom's guilt, which is a win-win).

    But I still find myself approaching any major planning of food-based events with some trepidation. I feel that there must be some simple mathematical formula for determining the exact right amount of food--enough for everyone to eat their fill and enjoy themselves, and for us to bring a little bit of leftovers home. In my head, determining the right amount of catering to order (or food to cook) should be as simple as determining the correct withholding on your taxes to make sure you get a modest return. Why isn't there a Catering 1040 EZ form?

    Unfortunately, being a Jewish mother means I always overestimate how much everyone will want to eat, and sometimes there are raspberry danish or poppy-seed bagel casualties.

    Oh, the pastry humanity!

     

     

    Photo of bagel-y goodness courtesy of Ezra Wolfe

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