Monday, March 31, 2014

Getting out of the house, streamlined.

My new job seems to be going well.  I'm enjoying it, and it's good to be employed again.

One thing I was worried about is that I'd spend a lot of money on meals out.  I have been pleasantly surprised by how this has not been the case.  Unless I have plans to meet someone for lunch, I'm eating in. (I think the cold winter has helped in this regard; I have been reluctant to leave the building.) I haven't been cheating by going out for lunch or grabbing breakfast, even though I am up before dawn. I'm not bragging (I still get snacks since I never seem to have brought enough). I've just gotten into a routine.

So, as  you know, my days are long. My commute, thanks to traffic and the subway, can take anywhere from one and a half to two hours each way.  Most of that is on a bus, which is great. The bus is quiet and comfortable and it goes right into the High Occupany Vehicle Lane.  The bane of my commuting existence is the subway.

However, because the commute is so long, and because I like getting to work on time, I'm up at 4:30 in the morning. Well, my alarm goes off at 4:30. Sometimes I stay in bed until 5:00.

How do you get ready in the morning when the sun isn't up yet? Well, it helps to do most everything else ahead of time. It also helps that I just have the cat to take care of. If I had kids this whole thing would be nuked before it started. (Seriously, I don't know how you parents do it.) It also helps that my hours are regular. I'm not working split shifts, or varied hours.

My clothes are picked out so I don't have to stress about what I've got and what I'll wear.  I don't eat breakfast at home, I eat it at work. I bring it with me, along with my lunch. And I don't make my lunch the night before. I make it several weeks ahead.

Basically, I make a lot of something I like, freeze it, and grab it for my lunch in the morning.  So far, I have been making burritos--either bean burritos or burritos from leftover meat.  I made a batch of chili last weekend and froze it in small containers to take with me to work. I'll do the same thing with curries, stews, soups, and creatively repurposed leftovers. I'm not a big sandwich eater, and I have found that making sandwiches is kind of a pain, especially when you have to either make them the night before or make them at 4:30 in the morning. I might not be able to do it the night before.

I also made steel cut oatmeal in the slow cooker one weekend.  This was actually quite easy and I will do it again. Grease the insert of the cooker.  Combine two cups of steel cut oats, six cups of water, and two cups of milk (I used almond milk).  Add 1/4 cup of brown sugar if you want it a little sweet, and 2-3 peeled chopped apples if you like. Cook on low for eight hours or high for four hours. Have some right off the bat if you like as it's delicious. Allow it to cool, and save one cup portions in plastic freezer bags. Freeze, and grab and go in the morning. I do take a little almond milk with me as well in a small container as the oatmeal gets very thick when you reheat it. But it's good and it's filling.

I also bring yogurt and fruit. I'll probably bring vegetables and hummus.

Now, I just have to tackle keeping the house orderly during the week.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Bavarian Pork Roast

My parents came over for dinner on Sunday.  I wanted to do something a little different from chicken, so I perused my slow cooker book and decided on this recipe (my mother likes German food).

It was very easy to do.  The pork was flavorful and tender, the gravy was delicious, and the leftovers will be good in burritos or a casserole (or just as they are with the gravy).

Here's the recipe:

Bavarian Pork Roast
1 11/2 to 2 pound boneless pork shoulder roast
2 tsp caraway seeds
1 tsp dried marjoram, crushed
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tbsp olive oil or cooking oil
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 8-ox carton dairy sour cream or plain yogurt
4 tsp corn starch

Trim fat from roast. Combine caraway seeds, marjoram, salt, and pepper, and rub all over roast.

Brown roast in hot oil in a large skillet.  Drain off fat.  Place meat in slow cooker.  Add the water to the skillet, bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to loosen brown bits in bottom of skillet.  Pour skillet juices and vinegar into slow cooker.

Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours or high for 4-5 hours. Remove meat from cooker, keep warm.

For gravy, skim fat from juices, measure 1 1/4 cups juices (add water, if necessary).  Pour juices into a saucepan; bring to boiling.  Combine sour cream or yogurt and cornstarch.  Stir into juices. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly.  Cook and stir 2 minutes more.  Slice meat and serve with gravy.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Good news

Yes, I have some good news!

First, the house is all repaired.  All that is left to do is to get the town inspector to come and sign off on the permit, which should be done tomorrow.  Then I will have to bribe my friends into helping me move my bedroom furniture into the newly-repaired master bedroom.  Hooray!

Second, I got a job! It's a long commute away but the good thing is, I don't have to drive much. I drive 11 miles to the bus. From the bus I take the subway, which is a giant pain, but the bus is relaxing and I get a lot of reading done. Also, it seems like a great place to work so far.  I have a nice boss, great coworkers, and the place has fantastic benefits.  Also, I think I'm going to learn a lot.

I have to say, I am very, very lucky to have the people in my life that I do.  My friends and colleagues (and my old boss) rallied right around me when I got laid off and helped me--they sent me job leads, connected me with people who connected me with other people, and basically through them I was able to get interviews and job offers.  I am deeply, deeply grateful.

Also, with the house thing--well, I have a carpenter friend who painted the inside and tore up the grungy carpet for me (and wouldn't take money outside of materials, despite my numerous attempts to pay him).  He put me in touch with a good contractor who was able to fix the house after the car hit it, and this contractor has been a gem.  He's done some extra things around the house as well and is basically a good guy.

You know the saying that bad things come in threes? Well, I've decided that good things come in tens.

(They don't, really, anymore than bad things happen in threes, but we're so good at looking for patterns and finding them, and confirming our own biases that I figured confirming a happy bias would be a good thing.)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The power of networking

I may be writing this too soon.  I may be unemployed for much, much longer.  However, I am going to tell you a little about what I'm doing to find a job.

First, I am obviously applying for jobs.  That should go without saying.  I'm applying for everything I possibly can, because frankly, being unemployed stinks.  Anyone who thinks that I should be taking stock and doing some sort of philosophical retreat where I find myself needs to pull their head out of the hole it's stuck in.  I'm not retired.  While I've got a cushion, it isn't infinite. I'd rather have a steady income coming in, and a job.

What I'm also doing is networking.  When I was a newly minted college graduate (over 20 years ago), I wasn't sure what networking was.  And people made it sound so complicated.  One friend was talking about contacts and tiers and whatnot.

I've been in my field for about 14 years now; I've been networking the whole time.  I didn't realize it at first, but after my first layoff I saw it.  All it is is getting in touch with your contacts--friends, former coworkers, colleagues, etc. You do it if you're working. You do it if you're unemployed. And you do it for various reasons.

Through friends, coworkers, colleagues, and former workmates, I have been able to learn about places where I'm interested in working.  They've given me a candid and honest assessment of the department where I'd be working, the organization overall, and the people. They've let me know who would be good to talk to and connected me with them (you know, like a network. Weird, I know). They have let me know about job opportunities or upcoming job opportunities.  They have let me know who the best person to talk to about an open position would be.  They have forwarded my resume and gotten me in touch with people, who got me in touch with other people.

Here is what networking isn't:

It isn't your buddy getting you a job. That isn't how it works.  My friends and colleagues can put in a good word for me, but they don't say "Hey, can you do me a favor and give Pamela a job?" Maybe in some situations that happens, but don't bank on that.

It isn't going to conferences and events and handing out your business card frenetically.  I mean, yes, conferences and events can be quite helpful. And they can also be a great way to meet people and make connections. But you want to know who it is you're contacting. If it's just a name in your contacts list and you know nothing about them, then you're not doing this right.

It isn't being best buddies with everyone you contact. It's isn't about being anyone's buddy, though I'm certainly friends with a lot of people I've worked with.  The thing is, if someone I used to work with several jobs ago contacted me because they wanted to know more about a place where I was working or job opportunities, I'd do what I could for them.  It doesn't matter if we hadn't been in close touch, or in touch at all, in several years.

It isn't going to an event and complaining about your job search.

Talk to people you've worked with (either at jobs, volunteer activities, professional activities, etc.).  Talk to people you've met along the way (from conferences, seminars, school, etc.). Don't get pouty if they haven't talked to you on the regular since you worked with them, since people get busy and it's nothing personal. If you mix this up with being BFF's with someone, it will complicate things.  The fact is, the people who are currently rallying around me all have lives and spouses and kids and busy jobs and aging parents and homes and volunteer commitments. We weren't in very close touch. But when I reached out, they weren't all "OH MY GOD PAMELA YOU HAVEN'T CALLED ME IN SO LONG I WILL NEVER HELP YOU BECAUSE YOU AREN'T A FRIEND." They said "Oh, I had no idea! I'll definitely keep an eye out for you, and yes, call me if you want to ask me about any place or person I may know something about."  These include people I do consider friends, and people whom I like but who are more colleagues.

Just letting people know you're in the market for a new job (or for a job) can be helpful. Here is what my friends and colleagues have done:

  • They've passed along job opportunities.
  • They've forwarded my resume to a hiring manager.
  • They've let me know who I should send my resume and cover letter directly along to.  In a couple of cases, they talked to those people and those people contacted the hiring manager, and I got interviews.
  • They've passed my resume along to people they knew, and asked them if they'd talk to me about job opportunities outside of my field.
  • They've introduced me to people who work in my field and who have a lot of connections.  Those people have, in turn, put me in touch with other connections, have put in a good word for me at different places where I have applied, and have given me some good advice on various organizations I am applying to.  One went over my resume and gave me some great advice on how to structure it for different jobs.
  • Anyone who was a supervisor in the past has said they'd provide me with a good recomendation.
  • They've given me an idea about the lay of the land at a place where I'd be interviewing--what the office culture was like, what the people I'd be interviewing with were like, etc.
  • They have sometimes tempered my expectations, put things in perspective, or encouraged me.
  • They have caught things that I have done that would be appealing to hiring managers.  Sometimes you don't know that you've done something notable because, well, you've done it and it seems mundane to you. But a couple of people have pointed out I did a few things that would be quite appealing.
  • They've clarified things for me.  I thought I wasn't going to be a good candidate for one place, but a friend who worked there said they'd be interested in talking to me. 

Don't be afraid to network.  And don't stop doing it, even if you're employed.  Sometimes, talking to someone else you know in your field about an issue can bring some new ideas to you.  They can really help.

And don't forget to reciprocate. And by reciprocate, I mean, if anyone you know needs your help, help them to the best of your ability. Don't scorekeep. (Remember, just because someone in your field or worklife universe isn't your BFF doesn't mean you don't help them out.) If you don't think they'd be the right fit for a job, tell them--it's going to save them time and trouble (it was very helpful to me in the past). If you can give them information they need or help them if they look for a job or help them with some ideas with an issue they're having, you'll be doing them a great favor.

I have to say, I am humbled and gratified by the support I've gotten. I had this the last time I was laid off, and I can tell you that is why I will not refuse anyone help.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

In this update, I am going to bright side everything

Just call me the queen of spin.

Okay, first, the good news.

I got a house! Hooray! It's a beautiful two-bedroom ranch, has a good-sized kitchen with decent storage, it's bright and didn't need any major work done.  I had the inside painted (the former owners painted the ceilings off white and in one bedroom tan).  I had the old, scuzzy carpet replaced with beautiful strand bamboo flooring I got a good price on.  The windows were new. The roof was in good shape. The siding was good. It has a dry basement (the house lot is on an incline, so no water issues).  It's in a nice neighborhood. It's near conservation land. It's not on the ocean (the ocean is a great location in the summer, but come storm season and you start to worry).  It's 960 square feet which is the perfect size for me.  The former owners left me the washer, dryer, lawn mower, leaf blower, hedge trimmer, and yard implements.  As well as some firewood (yes, there is a fireplace). It has gas heat. It is perfect!

Now, here's some more good news to repeat to yourself when you finish reading this post.
  • I am available for lunch pretty much anytime now.
  • I am providing business to various local businesses.
  • I am getting to know my neighbors thanks to unusual circumstances.
  • I have had the time to do things like unpack, replace some of the electrical switchplates, and take care of other small, niggling things I need to do around the house. 
I'm sure you can guess where some of this is going. But you may not see the second part. Hold on to your hats.

I passed papers in November, on Thanksgiving week. In mid-December, I was laid off.  Well, awesome.

Granted, as the time drew near, I had some clear indications and started making preparations. It wasn't that much of a shock to me.  I was calm when it happened, because I knew my finances were in order, I had a cushion, and I had some resumes out. I'd be okay. It would be a pain, but that is life.  Life is risk, I moved and bought close to a job I planned on sticking with, and well, the odds didn't work out that way.

My former supervisor has been a great help--she wrote me a wonderful letter of recommendation, is providing a reference, and passes along job leads.  We are still in touch. The only reason why I was laid off was money--no one wanted to do it.  They needed me but my job wasn't "essential," and the organization was in a situation where this difference mattered.  So I have nothing but good things to say about my former boss, my former director, and my former coworkers. I also have nothing but good things to say about the organization, which is a great place with a worthy mission and good people.  My old coworkers and colleagues have been very helpful in my job search. My family has been there for me. One thing this situation has shown me is that I am fortunate to have such wonderful and supportive friends and family.

I was already busy with my job search--anyone who thinks being unemployed means it's all leisure time is sorely mistaken. It's a full-time job, looking for a job.

And then, one night (I wasn't in the house, thankfully), my neighbor's son had what sounds like a mini-seizure and crashed into the front of my house.  He hit the front wall of the master bedroom. There isn't a hole in the house, but the wall and the supports need to be replaced.

I am now sleeping in the second bedroom--my furniture is there.  He is okay, thankfully. Insurance is covering this. I am glad no one was hurt. He and his family feel awful about this.  But it was an accident. A terrible accident. The important thing is, no one got hurt. It's a pain (and I'll admit, I freaked out when I came back and saw what happened) but it's not the end of the world.  On the upside, I met two of my neighbors from this. One saw the damage and left me a note and her number.  She came by to check on me later that day.  The father of the guy who did it apologized; I told him I have no hard feelings or ill will towards him or his son--and his son did report it to the police and he did file a claim with his insurance company. I rear ended someone once; I had been careless. She was gracious and kind, and I have to tell you, I never forgot that. So I won't get nasty especially when someone does the right thing and takes responsibility. (The father was also nice enough to clear my driveway during the last snowstorm; I'm going to have to bring something like this to him and to the other neighbor who helped in the aftermath.  Or maybe some nice chocolates for my other neighbor).

And you know what? Even if it wasn't a straight up accident--even if he had been careless or drunk or texting or just horsing around--then I would hope this was the wakeup call he'd need.  I can be sanguine about this because (I'm repeating myself here) no one was hurt and insurance is paying for it. I probably wouldn't be so philosophical about it if one or both of those things were not the case. So don't mistake me for a shiny, happy, positive saint.

It sounds like a hard luck story, doesn't it? But I have a house for someone to hit with their car. That's something. I have a cushion. I have had interviews. I will eventually get something.  Even if the job is in the city and my commute is long, I'll be working (also, I won't be driving, since I can take the bus into town and take the subway to where ever I need to go).

I have had several interviews. I have had a lot of meetings with a contractor. I have been very, very busy. I am also still trying to plan my garden for next year. And I resolved to start updating this blog again on the regular, because I enjoy it, and I missed it.  I've tried and done things since I last updated this (including using my pressure cooker successfully. . .now I can pressure can and pressure cook!).

What have you all been up to?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Unglamorous and boring tips to save money

When I started reading personal finance blogs and resources, I'd see all of these snazzy articles and how-to's that put stars in everyone's eyes.  How to make your own convenience foods! How to copy this great brand for pennies! How do save lots of money with no effort! How to reuse every single thing by learning these complicated craft skills!

The thing is, those things took a lot of work, and still played into a lot of what gets us into trouble.  Instead of copying the trendy brands, it would serve us better in the long run to reject the manufactured need for specific brands and the latest, hottest thing.  Instead of copying a certain convenience food, it would serve us better to learn some recipes that are easier to make and, let's face it, healthier for us (also, sometimes making our own convenience foods costs more in money and time in the long run).  And while I'm all for learning to do new things, make crafts, and stretch the useful life of what you have, I'm also for starting with simple steps.  Otherwise, people get overwhelmed.

So here are some dull and boring tips that will save you some money.  It will not save you millions.  But it will save you money.  As a plus, it won't overwhelm you.

Use what you have on-hand to make your meals.  Unless you're down to a jar of pimentos and flour, you can probably put something together.  Sites like All Recipes are useful here; you can search according to ingredients and come up with dinner or lunch.

Wash your clothes in cold water.  I get it--sometimes you have to wash things in hot water.  If I get raw chicken juice on my apron, I'm going to sterilize that puppy.  However, in most instances, it is just fine to wash your clothes in cold water.  It will save you on your energy bill, and it will keep your clothes from shrinking and wearing.

Line dry your clothes.  Boring, I know.  But not only will it save you in energy costs, it will also prolong the life of your clothes--you won't lose fabric to the lint trap, and it won't pill or shrink or wear.

If you're cooking or doing something messy, either wear an apron or a smock or wear something you don't mind getting stained.  

Have a set amount of your paycheck deposited into a savings account each pay period.  Do I need to explain this?

If your employer offers a 401(k), participate in it, and if they offer a match, put in at least the amount needed to get the match.  You're leaving money on the table, otherwise.

Pay your bills on time. You'll likely incur extra charges and a hit to your credit score otherwise.

Make sure you know how much is in your bank account--this includes not just what the bank says the balance is, but any outstanding checks you've written or online payments you've made that have not yet cleared. Bounced checks cost money.  They are also embarrassing.

Keep your place as uncluttered as possible.  Now, I know this can be a challenge (do I ever, as I should be crowned the queen of clutter) but it can help a lot.  If there isn't a lot of stuff to dig through, you won't lose things like checks and bills and important papers.  In fact, if you keep them in one place, you'll know where to find them and won't have a past-due bill (and extra charges), bounced checks, or other aggravations that can affect your financial well-being.

Don't take in a lot of stuff.  I'm not talking about being a minimalist, I'm talking about exercising common sense.  Just because it's free doesn't mean you should take it.  If you don't need something, don't make room for it.  If you need to know why, read the paragraph above.

Take care of what you have.  Change the oil in your car when it's needed, keep it clean, and either do yourself or have a mechanic perform the routine maintenance.   Make sure any small or large problems around your home are addressed and fixed.  Make clothing repairs yourself or pay someone to do them--it's still cheaper to have a button replaced or a ragged hem fixed than to buy an entirely new pair of pants or new shirt.  Taking care of things right away and maintaining what you own will prevent larger problems down the road.

Use cash. I know, I know.  You can get cash back or points if you use your credit card! You can pay one bill at the end of the month! You pay your credit card bill in full! The thing is, people tend to spend more when they use plastic as opposed to cold, hard cash. So keep it simple and use cash if it's feasible.

Boring, yes.  But simple.  Not overwhelming. Eminently doable.