Friday, November 30, 2012

Around the internet--the Powerball edition

So, as my U.S. readers may have heard,there were two winners for the Powerball drawing.  The jackpot, the biggest it's ever been, was up to almost $580M (the biggest was another lottery, MegaMillions, at $656M); the cash payout amount was almost $380M.  For my readers outside of the States, Powerball is one of our national lotteries. We have a fair number of lotteries here but Powerball--I believe--has the biggest jackpot.  Though I may be wrong.  I'm not a gambler.  I went to Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun with my folks once, browsed the shops and got a roll of quarters not for the slots but for laundry. I am boring.

You might expect me to get all sour-faced and scold people for buying chances in a lottery that they have no chance of winning (the chance is so tiny that it may not exist) but frankly, it's good entertainment.  As long as you're not blowing your grocery money or the mortgage or rent on it, have at it.  I'm of the same mind as Donna on this one. And as long as you're aware that the chances are small to the atomic level, then I will not call it a "tax on the stupid" like some personal finance writers.  It's just a bit of fun.

But. . .there are things you need to be aware of in case you do win.

First, winning doesn't guarantee happy endings.

In fact, if you are separated from an abusive jerk, they may try to get the money.

And you may notice that the people in your life change, even if you don't.

Here are things you should do if you win.

What are your chances of winning and having to worry about this stuff if you play? You can find out here.

And please! PLEASE. I don't mean to be negative, but you're not going to win. (See the aforementioned link to see how slim your chances actually are.) Do not mistake playing the lottery for a retirement plan.  It's a bit of fun. That's all.  Treat it as such, indulge in some daydreams, but get back to the business of living your actual life, which has its own challenges and rewards that you'd miss if you actually won that thing and found everyone and their dog trying to separate you from your winnings.

Also--if you are worried that you or a loved one might have a problem, read this. And this.  And check out Gamblers Anonymous.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A sinful treat

I hosted a friend of mine for dinner before I moved.  She brought the ingredients for dessert and I have to tell you, this was heavenly! Or kind of sinful.  Either way, it was good.

Everything in this pretty much goes by threes:

3 Bosc pears
1/3 of a cup of apple juice
3 tablespoons of dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons of butter

Slice the pears in half and core them.  Bake them in a 400 degree oven.  While they bake, whisk brown sugar in the apple juice over medium high heat until the sugar dissolves.  Add the butter and whisk that in.  Pour sauce over the pears and bake for 35 minutes.

Serve pears on vanilla ice cream, with the extra sauce poured over it.  Delicious!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The things we hang on to

When my grandmother died (back in the early nineties), my father and her other children asked the grandkids to come to her house and take things we wanted.  We felt funny about it, like it would be disrespectful.  My father finally pointed out that if we didn't use her things, they'd have to sell them in an estate sale, so if there was something of hers we wanted, we should take it and that it would be better for these things to stay in the family.  So I did take a few things.  We all did, though there were no fights over her stuff, as I recall.

I took some things that were pretty and some things that were completely unromantic but very useful.

My stovetop percolator was hers.  It makes excellent coffee.  I don't drink coffee much outside of work, but when I have people over I'll put a pot on for them.  I like this much better than the drip coffee makers.

My grandmother used to serve shrimp cocktail in these glasses if we were having a special meal at her house.  When I was a kid I didn't like shrimp so she put fruit salad in mine.  (Sometimes I want to go back in time and dope slap my younger self--shrimp is delicious.)  When I first took these, I thought they were wine glasses until I remembered the shrimp and fruit cocktail.  Your blogger is not a worldly woman, readers.  If I have people over for dinner, I'll serve ice cream in one of these, or yogurt and fruit.

Yes, the silverware was hers.  Well, I think it's stainless steel ware, actually, but you know what I mean.

I love these teacups.  There is nothing like drinking tea out of a tea cup, and my nana had some good taste when it came to teacups.  I especially like the black one and that's the one my friends go for when I give them free reign to choose their cup.  Great minds think alike, eh?  My nana never broke these out.  They were in a cabinet on display, but like many people, I think she felt like she had to "save" them for special occasions.  If I could go back in time I'd tell her that porcelain doesn't go rancid if you use it for your afternoon tea and that she should enjoy that.  Then again, maybe she couldn't relax with them because she was worried they'd break.

I have a silver teapot of hers that I need to polish.  It's very pretty.  It's not very practical--I don't typically serve tea out of it--but I like it.

I have a small sugar bowl and creamer that was hers as well.

Most of the stuff I took were things that I would use every day.  I use those teacups quite regularly. There are a few things I don't use a lot--the teapot and the dessert glasses, for example--but I do use them.  And when I use her things, even if it's the humble stovetop percolator or the silverware, I think of her. If I absolutely had to get rid of things, I know that many of these things could easily go, but I can't let them go.  I think of her when I use them and I remember things about her that I would have forgotten by now.  Honestly, I'll probably hold on to these things until I'm on death's door myself.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Easy ginger stir fry

I made this before I moved--a friend of mine came over for dinner and brought wild rice from her coop.  I made a stir-fry.

I like stir-frys though I've come to the conclusion that you need to thicken them up a little bit with a small amount of corn starch.  I put in a lot of ginger and garlic for the base, added some soy sauce and a splash of fish sauce, and some of the stock from the dried mushrooms that I reconstituted.  I then added a tablespoon of corn starch and whisked it until it was smooth.

These are very easy to make.  I kept this one basic and vegetarian, and used tofu, which I love.  Since some things cook more quickly than others, I start with the things that take longer to cook or that do well and impart lots of flavor while cooking.  Anything that overcooks easily--like leafy greens (such as the bok choy in the picture) or anything I want to remain somewhat firm (like the peppers) I add towards the end.  I added stuff I got from my CSA--bok choy and tatsoi and peppers.  I also made some beet greens.

I liked having the flavorful sauce as the tofu absorbs it.  Stir-frys are a go-to meal for me, though oddly enough I hadn't made one in a while.  I was glad to have rediscovered this option.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Adventures in mulch

I'm renting a house for the next six months while I look for a more permanent place to live (read: buy).  The house has a small yard and the street is tree-lined, which means I've got my work cut out for me when it comes to raking.  Fortunately, the yard is small and it's good practice for if/when I buy a single-family home.

I have a garden plot through work, and it's huge.  My forays into seaweed mulch produced mixed results--it does wonders for the soil, and it kept the weeds to a minimum, at first, but then I ended up with a prairie in my plot anyway.  My father always made a mulch pile with grass clippings and leaves, and it was very effective.  Weeds are sparse in the garden, and the soil is very well fed.  So I bagged the leaves I raked and made a mulch pile.  It was pretty big, but I know that after snow, rain, and decomposition that it would probably to down to a third of its size.  I walked back to my car thinking, Sheesh, I hope I can rake a few more in the yard when I slipped on the path.  Gah, I've got to be careful, all of the paths around the plots are slippery with leaves--


Well, take a wild guess how I spend that morning! I raked some areas around the plots up and piled those leaves on top of my leaf pile.  And I'll probably do that a few more times.  No one who has plots there use them--they prefer weed barrier or seaweed.  I'll probably still scout out seaweed but it's nice to know that yes, leaves are an option.  I'll have to get some lime to add to the pile--there are a fair number of oak tress in my neighborhood, and I heard that oak leaves are a little acidic. But I hope this will make the garden a little less weedy.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Changing circumstances and simplicity

I was thinking this morning about some of the stuff I do--and that I've recently been able to do more of--and how it could all change if my life circumstances change.

Most people, if they get married or partnered up or if they have kids, figure their lives will change.  The late nights out, the impromptu trips, the impulse purchases all tend to diminish.  (With me, that stuff diminished a while ago sans partner or kids, but you know what I mean.)

I'm not married or partnered, and I don't have kids.  But I can see even the unglamorous stuff I do getting shunted aside if I was to get married or have kids, depending on the situation.  Right now, the laundry I hang is my own.  I have time to work in the garden because I don't have to take kids to sports or activities.  I can eat whatever I want because I only have to take myself into consideration, not a spouse or partner.  (I know some people who will. not. eat leftovers, no matter what you do with them.)  I could see myself turning my TV back on if I had kids because frankly, SOMETIMES MOMMY HAS TO PEE AND YOU KIDS NEED TO SIT STILL FOR FIVE MINUTES SO I CAN DO SO.  (I'm not a mother.  But I have babysat and lemme tell you, the TV was a godsend when I needed to use the facilities.)  As TB pointed out in the comments here, they use the dryer and don't line-dry.  He likes the idea, but he's not the one who's doing the laundry.  As Nicoleandmaggie pointed out, sometimes growing up with things a certain way turns you off to it.  Growing up with line dried clothes doesn't always mean you want to continue that.  Sometimes it means you love the convenience of the electric dryer.

You and your partner can start off with the best of intentions, but then reality hits you full in the face.  People get tired.  Sometimes you just want to get takeout because you do not have the spoons to even make a simple dinner.  You use the dryer.  Maybe you don't garden (as much) because you're pooped on the weekends or your taking the kids to games or activities. 

I guess you can push certain things, but it can be exhausting if you are the only one willing to do them.  Or if you're the one tasked with doing them.  Or if continuing to eschew something just makes things a little too hard.

So, I'll put it to my readers who are or who have been coupled up, and who have kids: what changed when your circumstances changed? How did they change? What stayed the same? Were there things you wanted to do that your family was opposed to--and were you able to have them come around?  For me, I'm just speculating, as it's just me and the cat.  What changed for you?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Small pleasures: line dried clothes

I almost always hung my clothes to dry, even when I lived in my condo.  I had a drying rack that I set up and put every article of clothing I could on it, and then hung others up on hangers to dry that way.  The only things I tended to put in the dryer were sheets and towels--sheets, because I didn't have the room to hang them, and towels because the dryers went for a certain amount of time anyway and I figured I'd throw them in there if I was drying my sheets in there.  (Oh, and I would dry my comforter in the dryer, too.)

I'm now renting a house, and I was so happy to see a clothesline set up out back.  I have made very good use of it.  I used the dryer once--it started to rain one day when I did a sheet wash--but that was it.  Otherwise, I have used the clothesline.  Even though it's getting pretty raw outside. 

First, my clothes and linens smell heavenly.  There is something about drying things outside that really does beat drying them inside--the fresh air seems to get into the clothes.  Second, they will last longer--the lint that ends up in the dryer comes from what you were drying, after all.  Although I dry my clothes on the clothes rack even if a line dry outside isn't an option, it's nice that I now have that option for sheets and towels as well.  (I am not against buying another condo, but I have to say, condominiums and homeowners associations really tend to side-eye clothes lines.)

I know some people don't like the fact that jeans are stiff and towels are scratchy after being on the line.  I don't mind, actually.  The towels soften up pretty quickly once you use them and the jeans soften up once you wear them--though I've never found them to be like cardboard or anything.

I had recently finished a book where the author was musing about doing different things to save the earth (instead of unbridled hedonism like yours truly). She couldn't bring herself to line dry things because of the scratchy towel issue and the fact she was self-conscious over neighbors seeing her underwear fluttering in the breeze.  That did occur to me to at first--I'll be honest--but then I thought, well, line drying used to be a thing.  Everyone did it.  It was no big deal.  Heck, when I was growing up, my mother did it (she finally stopped when we had an influx of Japanese beetles that would cling to our clothes and linens).  If someone is going to gawk and point at my underwear, they should be prepared for me pointing at them and mocking them for being pervs.

I'm no purist though.  I'm not going to lecture anyone who doesn't do it.  I'm well aware that it's a lot of work, that the weather doesn't always cooperate, and that some people just plain do not like doing it.  That's okay, as far as I'm concerned.

So readers, do you air dry your clothes? 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Around the interwebs--the eclectic edition.

You can donate to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts at the Red CrossTreeHugger had a post up about where to give and how to volunteer/help. 

Did you know that the Wampanoag Nation actually has several thanksgivings throughout the year? Yes. Yes they do.  Thanksgiving was perhaps a first-time thing for the Puritans who came over here, but it was a well-established thing with the Wampanaoags. 

Belinda's chickens produced the first egg today.

Make Argentine Chimichurri sauce on the cheap. Apparently, it goes with just about anything, including a humble baked potato.  I'll be tucking into Thanksgiving leftovers next weekend, so I will give this a try.

The Wall Street Journal Talks about the new rules of flirting.  One woman got into hot water when she "flirted" (actually, engaged in ribald conversation) with a guy at a work event--his wife was none too pleased.  Maybe dial that back at work.  I think a good overall rule is to be friendly to everyone and interested in what they have to say. I do think that flirting with your spouse/significant other is a good thing.  That's when you should really amp up the wooing, during the time that people take each other for granted.  Flirt! Tell them they are hotties.  My parents still flirt with each other.

In the same neighborhood, 16 Ways I Blew My Marriage.  I think this applies to both genders.  Though since I'm not married or in a committed relationship, maybe I should shut up.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Yankee Swap Conundrums and Tips

Yankee Swaps--also known as white elephant gift exchanges--have become quite the staple of workplace Holiday celebrations in North America.  I tend to be scroogey about workplace holiday celebrations because not everyone celebrates these holidays (and it puts them under pressure) and not everyone can afford the money or time to participate in this stuff.

However, my current workplace does this in a way that is a lot of fun.  We go out to lunch (they pay for it) and we have a $5 Yankee Swap.  The gift cannot be more than $5. (A pricey gift is side-eyed, hard.) We all think joke gifts are awesome (HINT TO COWORKERS WHO ARE READING THIS I WOULD TOTALLY KILL FOR PEZ I AM SO NOT KIDDING I LOVE PEZ). 

Basically, my workplace keeps the swap in the spirit in which it was originally intended--used or cheap items, gag gifts, fun little things.  It's all in good fun and we have a blast. 

Unfortunately, at other parties and with other people, the original intent of the Yankee Swap (a funny and inexpensive party game) has been forgotten.  I've heard some people at other events get awfully stroppy when a participant gives a gift that is obviously below the "reasonable" limit of $25. Well, a) not everyone has $25 to spend on gifts (and this may not be the only party they're attending--this adds up), b) not everyone has the time to get gifts for loved ones and random people at holiday parties and c) even if participation is optional, some people feel like they have to participate. 

So, for party throwers and participants, a couple of requests:

Times are tough.  The holiday season is expensive at te best of times.  Please--institute a low price limit.  $5 is a reasonable price limit.  $25 is not. 

Don't buy something that is obviously over the price limit.  You're going to make everyone else feel badly and let's face it--your missing the point of the party game.

Please be gracious.  If a participant has obviously regifted something or gone to the dollar store, keep your displeasure to yourself.  Don't even complain to someone after the event.  Why? Because it might get back to the giver and they'll feel awful.  Not to mention the fact that you're missing the point of the swap, which at the end of the day is a party game.  Not a chance to show how you can get a $25 gift that Martha Stewart would approve of. 

And you know, keep in mind that if your biggest irritant is a subpar swap gift, your life is pretty sweet.  I'm just sayin'.

Now, for participants who are engaging in a Yankee Swap, you have several options open to you. 

You can make the gift you'll give.  Even if you don't can, sew, craft, or build, you can put something cool together.

However, maybe you do not have the time or the inclination to make anything.  That's okay! There are still inexpensive options open to you.  I just follow a few simple rules:

Unless it's a gag gift, I make sure it is consumable or useful and gender neutral.  Even if someone say, can't eat nuts or drink caffeine, the gifts they get can be offered to guests or re-gifted with a good chance of being used.

Here are things you can get for a Yankee Swap:

Don’t be afraid to regift.  If something has been obviously used, then don’t give it away.  But if you got something from another Yankee Swap or from someone that you haven’t used, don’t feel badly about regifting it.

When in doubt, stick to consumables.  A pretty gift bag filled with packets of nice hot chocolate, teas and coffees will be welcome—even if the eventual recipient doesn’t drink those things, they can offer it to guests.  It won’t take up room and gather dust.  You can also give a small container of dark chocolate, a gift card to Dunkin Donuts, a container of spiced or roasted nuts from the grocery store, box up a variety of instant soup packets for the days they want something extra with their lunch. . .small things that they can eat or easily regift.

Or, if you’d prefer to get something someone wouldn’t consume but would still make good use of, consider these options:  a neutral colored scarf, a small travel umbrella, attractive reusable shopping bags, a keychain with a mini-flashlight (good for people who park in the dark and/or who have cats—cats love to chase the light beams), a funny (G-rated) magnet, a travel mug, a windshield cover (eliminates having to scrape your windshield), a phone charger for the car. . .think small but useful.  These things tend to be more expensive than $5, so shop carefully.  Me, I tend to prefer the consumables for the price--these things are more than $5 on average.  But if your swap has, say a $10 limit, most of these would fit comfortably into that limit.

At the end of the day, if you're throwing a party and having a swap or participating in a swap, keep in mind--these are supposed to be fun party games.  Nothing more.  So have fun.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

I'm back!

Wow, it's been a wild and wooly couple of weeks.

The move went well.  I hired movers--my friend offered to help but honestly, I am at the age (as are my friends) where moving large pieces of furniture and trying to maneuver a rental truck would be cumbersome, back-wrecking, and time consuming.  I figured I'd spend the money and have professionals do it.  I am not exaggerating when I say this was the best cash I have ever spent! 

Two of the three movers bickered like an old married couple.  It was funny.  One of them was a little bossy but I was glad of it because he didn't skimp on things like padded quilts to wrap around furniture, etc.  I was moved out of my place and moved into my new place by the afternoon.  They were even able to strap my deep freeze with the food in it and move it as my place is just a little over an hour away.  So that was good.

My cat did not like the trip but she seems to like the house I'm renting.  Heck, I like the house I'm renting.  It started its life as a cottage, was winterized and had a second floor with one room added on, and the landlords are friends of mine.  It has a small yard, a holly tree, is within walking distance to the town center, fifteen minutes away by foot to the beach, and ten minutes by car to work.  The dining room has a china cabinet with glass doors; that's where I put my dishware.  I left some things packed in boxes--I plan to only live here for six months (that's how long the lease is for) while I look for a new place to buy.  So I don't want to unpack things that I'll only use once or twice--I'll make do for six months and save some trouble packing.

Closing the sale on my condo was a nightmare.  Hurricane Sandy hit beforehand (and I got a call from the lender's attorney wanting to know why I couldn't print and scan/fax something over to him when everything was closed due to the hurricane.  Hey, sparky, you look out your window yet today??)  Let's just say that I was vindicated in pushing to fire our old management company (oh. my. profane. demons.) Let's also say that the lender's attorney had a requirement that other attorneys said, somewhat diplomatically, were highly irregular.  (He eventually dropped the requirement since it could have nuked the deal.)  We closed, later than originally planned, but we did close.

But it's over.  And I'm happy about this.  My poor attorney more than earned her keep with this one.  Yikes.

Weather-wise--well, I was worried because of Sandy.  I thought we'd get flooding from tidal surges, but we were okay.  I didn't even lose power, and there were branches down (one road was impassible because of branches, etc.).  Other people did lose power but got it back.  Then came the next night, when there was a cloudburst that did more damage in my neighborhood than the hurricane.  I lost power for eight hours and there were a bunch of trees down.  Exciting times! Then we had a Nor'easter which was also exciting--I got to drive to my old town to fill out paperwork that night, and when I drove back the next day for the closing, I saw it had snowed.  (It doesn't snow much where I'm living, as the ocean keeps the air just warm enough to turn it to rain.)

We got off lucky though--I have been shuddering over what they're dealing with in New York and New Jersey.  Ugh.

And of course, I voted.  I was happy to see a line.  There should be lines for every election.  

You'd think I'd be blogging like a madwoman what with all this newfound time with a shorter commute, but I do not have cable (I may get internet, we'll see) and so use the library and WiFi hotspot.  I'm sorry, but my last cable bundle bill was $160 for TV, phone, and internet.  TV basically features reality shows with rich people fighting over stupid things, the phone I use but I could (and did) get a cheaper deal away from cable and the internet was getting slow considering how much I was paying.  It wasn't worth it to me. 

Okay, that's what I've been up to.  I hope you've all been well.  I will catch up on my blog reading--I have been terribly remiss and I'm sorry I just dropped off the radar.  I did make some delicious dishes and will soon write a post waxing poetic about my friend's honey and my other friends pumpkin rolls.  Also, last night, I met a woman who spins her own yarn.  She spins her own yarn! I cannot even.