Monday, December 31, 2012

Good cheer and Pez

Apparently, Santa reads this blog as he knew to get me Pez.  That sly little elf came in while my parents were visiting on Christmas Eve and left it under my pillow.  He is also, apparently, hanging out with the tooth fairy.

I had a great Christmas--my parents came over on Christmas Eve.  We did a total potluck.  I made the sides (salad and roasted vegetables with shallots), my father brought venison steaks that he marinated, and my mother brought pie (which was also my breakfast because HOW CAN YOU NOT EAT PIE FOR BREAKFAST).

We all converged on my sister's house on Christmas Day and I gave my niece and nephew coal.  Well, it was chocolate covered peppermint crunchy candies, but it was called coal.  Maybe I'm encouraging them to be naughty. 

This weekend, I saw my friends and their adorable toddler, my sister and her family came down to visit for breakfast (and learned first-hand the joys of the beach during December), and I apparently brought snowy weather with me down to the Cape, as it snowed on Saturday night.  I woke up to see snow.  I had to shovel.  This is rather unusual for the Cape, as it tends to turn to rain. However, as I was shoveling and contemplating tackling the large frozen solid chunks of show and slush the municipal plow threw up at the end of my driveway, a landscaping plow drove by.  It stopped, and the guys inside offered to clear the bottom part of the driveway.  They wouldn't take any money.  Now that made my day!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Around the internets: the naughty, the nice, and the bizzare

A day late, but that's okay.  Let’s get to it.

I like these Christmas lights! I think I’d be the only neighbor to find it funny and bake my admittedly surly-pants neighbor a cake.

Mayans in New York City are basically telling everyone to chillax, already.  The world isn’t ending.  Also, this end-of-the-world baloney is kind of insulting and gross and disrespectful of the Mayan people. 

A Texas man saw Jesus in a tortilla.  Looking at the picture, I see a breeching whale.  Rorschach tests are fun!

Semi-homemade isn't just for food.  If you want to give a gift with a personal touch, and don't have the time to make something, check out Lili's solution.
A NJ man brings home a tree too big for his house and uses the top to create a very realistic looking rooftop design.  Well done, sir!

Five gifts for under fives.

I could totally get a job here, as I cannot wrap gifts without them looking like they survived a rabid bear stampede.

Bryallen wants to know what you like most about Christmas.  Well, one thing that won't be on the list of favorites is my wrapping skills.

Have a wonderful weekend, everybody!

Friday, December 21, 2012

The world didn't end after all. But stay safe out there, everyone!

From, graphic artist Allison Morris. Thank you, Allison!
Holiday Hazards Infographic Well, the world didn't end after all.  Which I'm sure is disappointing to many people who kept harping on it and seemed almost gleeful at the prospect.

But there are still hazards out there.  Specifically, hazards associated with the holiday season.  So stay safe!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Things I don't miss

Nothing to do with the post, just a picture I took on a walk.
I don't have the wherewithal to write a long post today, but I did want to talk a little bit about what I don't miss these days.

As regular readers know, I moved closer to work.  Work is about an hour and ten minutes from where I used to live.  I miss my friends in my old town, my old condo unit (which was beautiful), and being a 40-minute drive (or a train ride) to the city.  That was convenient.  I miss my old church.  I miss being able to pop in on my folks easily (I can do it, but, you know, we're a little further apart now.)

But I did decide to go without things in my rental, since this is for about six months while I look for a place to buy.  Here is what I don't miss.

Cable TV. I don't even miss regular TV.  I will eventually get the cables to connect my DVD player to my old analog TV but for now, I don't feel I need it at all.

Caller ID. Actually, I do kind of miss that (it's great for screening telemarketers) but I'm not getting a lot of calls from them yet.  Also, saying "No thank you" and hanging right up (without giving them a chance to answer the "No thank you") is quite effective.

Shopping. I didn't do a lot of it even where I used to live, and it's not as if there aren't options here, but I still don't miss it. LOL.

Have you given up anything that you realized you don't miss? What was it?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The news yesterday left me sick and sad

This is just terrible, although all too common. The gunman killed so many (including his own mother) and hurt so many.  The survivors are left with terrible loss, there are so many dead, and the gunman's family is left with grief and shame.  My heart just hurts.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A brief post about gender roles. With a Harry Enfield video.


Yeah, I'm going there.

The next person who insists that ladybrains can't handle engineering, science, or math are welcome to start sewing.  You cannot read those sodding patterns without having an engineer's brain.  You also can't do that stuff without being good with math or spatial reasoning (go on, try and take a two-dimensional pattern and make a three dimensional thing out of it without good spatial reasoning and math skills).  While we're at it, a lot of crafts require that stuff.

Have I mentioned that I do not do well with patterns or diagrams? My sewing classes, as fun as they are, are true exercises in character building.  I'm going to do this the way I relearned swimming as an adult--take the beginners classes over and over until I've got it down.  This may mean that I'm able to be reasonably proficient by the time I retire, but I will have fun doing it.

Enjoy the Harry Enfield video.  If you aren't familiar with him, look him up on Youtube.  He's a riot.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Before taking all of the personal finance advice out there, consider the issues

Maybe it's because I tend towards surliness, but when I saw this article in the Wall Street Journal, I startled everyone around me when I yelled HA!

The article itself is a good one--it points out the drawbacks to downsizing.  I don't disagree with the points raised (though if a grown child is going to insist--the way a few did in the article--that their parents hang on to a large family home that no longer houses six people, said child should take over the mortgage payments or shut up).

The thing is, I've given the side-eye to a lot of advice for years.  Not because it's necessarily bad, but because it's simple and doesn't take other things into account.

Move to a smaller home.  Sure. As long as your current home is maintained well and has good market value and you can actually sell it for the price you need (not want, not think you should get, but need).  Also, you have to make sure that the smaller home costs substantially less than the house you sold.  Selling a large home in a tony suburb of Boston isn't going to be helpful if you buy a condo in Beacon Hill.

While we're at it, 'downsizing' does not mean buying a house with the best of everything but has fewer square feet.  If you sell your large suburban home for a condo with a six-burner Viking stove and professionally designed kitchen, you're likely not going to save much if any money.  It does not mean, buying another home that is marginally less expensive than your current home.  If you are not going to come out way ahead, and if you are going to make a lot of upgrades to your new place, don't bother.

Also, this advice frustrated me because my place was already of modest size.  I could have moved right into the city in a much smaller place for more money.  No thanks.

I'm not saying don't do it.  But make sure it's actually an option and that you can keep to the spirit of the advice.

Move to a place with a lower cost of living.  This is great advice on the face of it.  Moving from an expensive greater metropolitan area to a more rural area far away (say, from metropolitan Boston to a small town in Kansas) will save you lots right off the bat.  You can sell your house, buy another place, and have lots of money left over.

What you will not have is your support network nearby.  This is what makes me tear my hair out about this advice.  It's one thing if you have a new job or another type of opportunity somewhere and you make a go of it.  Go for it.  When I was a kid my father got promotions and job opportunities that required us to move, and we went for it.  I can't see my folks moving to say, small-town Kansas just to save money, however.

Just moving out to where you don't know anyone to save money can backfire.  You'll be spending money to go back and visit family.  You will not have the family and friends you may rely on for emotional and practical support when things get tough, and you will not be able to give the kind of support you want when things get tough for them.  That can take a toll.  That can be quite lonely.  And not for nothing, but you aren't living in a bubble of pure math--you're a person with emotions and relationships and all kinds of needs that pure math isn't going to address.

Also, the things you may be used to--and that were actually quite cost effective--likely don't exist, or exist in the quantity that you may need.  Living out in a rural area means you have to drive more, much more, to get to the store or any place for entertainment.  Food prices are not necessarily lower.  Depending on where you live, the weather can also provide new hazards that you may or may not be prepared for.

I'm not saying don't do it.  But learn everything you can about the area before you take the plunge.

Buy at the thrift store.  Look, I like getting stuff from the thrift store.  I have some cute sweaters that I got from it. It's a great place to go if you need housewares.  But if I got all of my clothes there, shopping would be a full-time job for me.  So. . .if you have the time for that, go for it.  If you have kids and will be spending a lot of time shopping for clothes anyway, go for it.  I hate shopping and doing it like a job gives me hives.  I want to get the basic thing I need and clear out.

I'm not saying don't do it.  But be prepared to spend a lot of time doing it.  If you enjoy it, that's great; it's a good way to save money.  If you hate shopping, you'll resent the time you spend.

Buy a used car.  Generally I am for this (I bought my car used).  However, there are things to consider: first, if you don't have the money to buy a car with cash and will have to make payments anyway, you might get a better rate if you buy new (dealerships promote them with low rates).  A lot of used cars don't cost that much less than new cars--the insurance may cost less but not by that much.  If you want to save money and you want to buy used, you're going to have to buy very used.  Which is fine--I'm all for that as well! But it may be older than what you want.  (A lot of people who tell you to buy used seem to think that buying a car that's a couple of years old will save you a lot.  It really won't.)  Buy very used, and save money for maintenance.

Again, I'm not saying don't do it.  But know what you can spend in total (not what you can spend as a monthly payment--you don't want a six-year car loan) and figure out what you can get for that.  If you insist on having a car not older than two or three years old (in some cases four or five years old), see how much a car of the same model costs new.  

Move closer to work.  That's great (I did it, recently though there are risks in what I've done).  If you work in an expensive metropolitan city, moving closer may not be financially feasible.  When I worked in town, let me tell you, I lived as close as I could possibly live that I could afford.  That meant I lived out in the burbs. Yes, I wouldn't need a car in town.  But I'd be paying a lot more for a tiny place.  We all have our tradeoffs, of course, but I don't need to live in a city. (I lived in a mega-city for three and a half years; it was great but three and a half years were more than enough.)

Also, keep in mind, if the economy (or the nature of your work) has had you skip around a fair bit, and that skipping was not all done in the same city, moving can backfire.  You move and lose your job--then you get another one in city X that is 30 miles away.  You move and then you're laid off.  You get another job in city Y . . . you might just want to stay put and make the best of it until you feel a little more secure.

I'm not saying don't do it.  Just make sure you've got job security and that you're not painting yourself into a corner.

Okay, I know a lot of people with disagree with me on this, and just FYI, I get why.  I'm curious--is there personal finance advice that you don't follow or think is a little simple?  What is it and why do you feel that way?

Edited to add: Nicoleandmaggie have a post on a related topic.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Sew I'll do a project

See what I did there?  Good thing I've got a day job.

Anyhow, I'm taking another round of sewing lessons at this place.  I like Mikala, the instructor.  She's very patient and fun and encouraging, which is what I need since I'm frustrated very easily and a little on  the jittery side, which makes cutting patterns or fabric an adventure.

I'm going to make an apron.  I figured it would require me to use a lot of sewing skills but be doable enough that I could complete it by the time the classes were finished.  I also figured it would be something I could use--it doesn't require zippers or buttons (unless you want to add buttons as decoration, which I don't) and the sizing is pretty forgiving, so chances are I can get away with using it even if it's not perfect.  This is in contrast to a skirt or dress or shirt I may try to make which, if it's not done right, is going to look strange.

The fabric in the picture is what I'm using.  I picked it up yesterday.  I was going to get an  aqua in the solid color, but when I took the advice of a fellow customer at the store and draped the fabric bolts next to each other and walked back, I saw the brown in the pattern was dominant and that's the best color to use for the trim.  (The customer also declared the pattern I chose "darling" so I'm assuming I'm doing something right!)

The patterned one will be the main part of the apron; the solid brown will be the straps, ruffle (I'm not a ruffle kind of chick but this will be good practice) and pockets.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Ruth's Concord Grape Pie From Heaven

When I moved, I still had time left in my CSA/farm share.  I realized that it wasn't realistic for me to think I'd come up to the farm mid-week just for that, so I gave the rest of my summer share and my winter share to the minister of the Unitarian-Universalist congregation I went to. He likes to cook, is a good cook, and I knew that he and his wife would make very good use of the vegetables.

As a thank you, he made me a grape pie.

Now, I have to tell you that this pie is legendary.  Ruth, the woman who introduced it to him, was a community fixture--everyone knew her, and those who never met her before she passed away certainly have heard a lot about her.  She was one of those people who personified the town they lived in, became a quasi-institution.  When she passed away, the church was overflowing with people who came to pay their respects.

She was also known for her grape pie.

This pie is delicious.  If you like Concord grapes, you will love this pie.  If you are not into Concord grapes, or kind of shrug at grapes, don't make it because, well, grape pie is not easy to make.  You have to remove the skins from the grapes, which sounds like a pain (I haven't made this, so I'm assuming, but the good reverend had confirmed when I first learned of this pie that it is a fair amount of work).  But if you enjoy them, and/or your family or friends do, it's well-worth it, especially if you know of where you can pick them fresh. (It's just as tasty with store-bought grapes.)

Ruth  shared her recipe for the grape pie with the good reverend.  The good reverend made the pie for me as a thank you and shared the recipe with me. 

I had my parents over for dinner in the house I'm renting, and we had this for dessert.  We very much enjoyed this!

Concord Grape Pie

6-plus cups Concord Grapes
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
 2 tsp. lemon juice
1/8 tsp. salt
Oat streusel* and one 9" pie shell or two 9" pie shells, depending upon what you prefer.

Wash grapes and remove from stem to measuring up.  Remove skins by pinching grape at opposite stem.  Reserve skins.

Place pulp in saucepan and bring to a boil; cook a few minutes until pulp is soft.  Put through a straer or food mill while pulp is hot to remove the seeds.  Mix strained pulp with skins.  Stir in sugar, flour, lemon juice and salt.  Place grape mixture in pastry lined pie pan.  Sprinkle on Oat struesel or cover with second pie shell.  Bake in a 425 degree oven for 35-40 minutes. 

*To make Oat streusel, combine 1/2 cup quick cooking rolled oats, 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup flour.  Cut in 1/4 cup butter or margarine to distribute evenly.