Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Feeling down

To be perfectly frank, I've been feeling pretty down this week. No, not sick (that cold was miserable for a few days, but it's pretty much gone now) just feeling the pressure. February has been incredibly expensive, with no jobs on the horizon for Shane. He hasn't even been paid yet for the work he's been doing. (Although he did get to fill out his first time sheet last Friday, so he will get paid in two weeks. Two long weeks.) There always seem to be more and more costs to life, and it's frustrating to see us slipping further and further away from our goals. Right now, it feels like too much to handle.
The end-of-winter costs are catching up with us: I checked our electric bill for last month and discovered that we paid $330. To be clear, when I looked at the usage chart, that's more than double our average monthly electricity use for the month of January. And that's comparing it to when we had roommates. There's absolutely no way we spent that much on electricity (especially not with our computers dead for so long), so either the company read the wrong meter (charging us for the upstairs neighbors) or the house is wired in such a way that we're paying for at least part of the neighbor's electricity usage. (I suspect the latter--either we're paying for all of the vehicle plug-ins, or the washer and dryer, or something. We want to do a breaker test at some point, or at least talk to the landlord, to see what exactly we're paying for that's costing us so much.) I called the electric company yesterday and it was pretty much useless. The woman at customer service didn't listen to anything I said. She reminded me that there have been two rate increases recently (one in December and one in January) and then just kept telling me, "Well, it was really cold last month. Maybe you used a space heater." We didn't. When I said that (three times) she finally said, "Well, do you have a cell phone? You charge that, don't you? Do you have a toaster?" As if I'm a complete idiot, and as if my toaster is going to cost $330 to run. (How much toast does she think we make?) The only good thing I can think of to say about our electric company (GVEA) is that they are a PERFECT example of why monopolies suck so much. I hate them.
Between the electricity, and the rent increase, and all the food we've bought, this month has been killer. We finally had to pull some money out of savings to pay for Shane's student loans. Not easy to make that call, but better in the long run than carrying that debt on a credit card. (He's got it set up to auto-pay, and then he also gets airline miles for paying off the loans.) And he's finally decided that it's time to start looking for work anywhere at all. Not just anywhere in Alaska, but anywhere. We worked out what salary he'd need to make for the expense and hassle of moving to be worth it. Neither of us is particularly happy about this decision, but Alaska is just too expensive, with too few jobs. We can't live on only one salary.
I've also pretty much decided that unless I get a raise this year (it would be my first in three years of working here) I will start seriously looking for a new job. We can't go on this way. I'm sick of having our income remain steady while all of the costs in our lives increase exponentially. And really, after three years it's time to get a raise. If they don't appreciate me by now they never will.
I also may or may not try to get a second job this summer. It would suck, and I'd hate it. After all, summer is the time when you want to have the fewest cares around here. There are always barbecues to go to, and floats down the river, plus softball, hiking, camping, biking, gardening... Winter is when you don't care how many hours you work, but there are no extra jobs during the winter. Tourism shuts down, and most people stay home rather than going out to places like restaurants so they never hire. I'll have to figure out if the loss of free time (and gardening time) would be worth the increase in income, but it is a possibility.
We decided not to get birthday gifts for each other. We'd have to pull more money out of savings to do so, and that seems silly. Borrowing from our long-term goals to pay for more immediate, short-term happiness? No thanks. I asked Shane what he'd want if I did get him a gift and he said, "Honestly, I can't think of anything." We discussed what we would have gotten each other: Shane wanted me to have some guilt-free book shopping, because it's the only type of shopping I really love to do and there are always tons of books on my "want" list. I wanted him to get the computer parts he wants, but since he basically wants to rebuild his computer, and even with some gift certificates he has saved, that would be several hundred dollars. We couldn't justify the expense for either of those things. Not right now, at least.
I have to remind myself that this is a hard time of year in general. The beginning of February warms up and you start to get a taste of spring, but you know it'll get cold again soon. (It has--this morning it was -25 with windchill.) As I said, all of the end-of-winter expenses are catching up to you right when you're running out of stored food and need to buy more, when you're running low on cash because there simply isn't work to be found. It's hard not to be discouraged, and I've given in to it this week. I'll go back to fighting it tomorrow, or next week.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Trying new things

So, there are a whole bunch of things that I still have yet to try making at home, even though online tutorials swear, "It's easy!" I've just always told myself that they take up too much time, or I have too many other projects to work on. But really, I'm being ridiculous when the hands-on time for each of these projects is about ten minutes.

Ricotta: We mostly only use ricotta in lasagna. I think that when we do have it, Shane will sometimes sprinkle stuff in it (maybe sugar and spices?) and eat the leftovers (there are always leftovers). Otherwise, it just goes bad in the fridge. (For some reason, it's one of the few things we always forget we can feed to the dog if it's in danger of going bad.) However, if we can make it ourselves then it will be cheaper (the only ingredients are milk and white vinegar) and less wasteful--both in terms of packaging and how much food gets thrown out because we can simply make as little as we need.

Cream cheese: This is a biggie for us. It's not that we eat so much cream cheese (although, we would if I'd actually get on the ball and start making bagels again) but we do have a few favorite recipes which call for cream cheese. (I'll post one of the recipes soon.) We have two packs in the fridge, and I've decided that they're the last ones I'll buy. Cream cheese is essentially yogurt that's been drained of most of the liquid. (Greek yogurt is too, the difference is just how much of the liquid you drip out.) This can easily be turned into a zero food waste recipe by using the whey (the liquid that's dripped out) for bread. And since I make yogurt anyway, it's stupid of me not to make this once in a while.
It's especially important now because Shane's birthday is this coming weekend. He's not a fan of cake (it's too sweet) so instead he's requested that I make a recipe his mom calls Blueberry Delight. It calls for cream cheese, Cool Whip, and a graham cracker base. It can easily be made into a zero waste recipe by making my own whipped cream, cream cheese, and graham crackers, and using my own wild blueberries. (I don't have enough left, though, so I'll have to buy some. Yet another reason to want to pick more next year!)

Graham crackers: There are lots of tutorials online for making crackers of all sorts, but my friend Hannah introduced me to the blog Plastic Free Chef and her graham cracker recipe looks easy enough. This is the only recipe for which we don't keep the ingredients on hand. Rice syrup and wheat germ aren't usually found in our house, but they are ingredients which will keep for a while and I can make many batches of crackers if I choose. We really only eat them in this recipe, but since store-bought graham crackers always come wrapped in plastic I think it'll be worth it to start making my own.

Sour cream: Just as with cream cheese and ricotta, this is sort of a variation on yogurt. Instead of using a yogurt culture, however, you add either a little bit of sour cream as a starter, a little buttermilk, or some vinegar. We have a favorite recipe (moose stroganoff) which requires sour cream, and it's often the missing ingredient in our house. Now that I know I can make it so easily on my own, no more trips to the store for that forgotten tub of sour cream and a lot less plastic waste.

All of these things are not only easy, they also utilize ingredients we already have on hand (except the graham crackers) and don't take much time. I feel a little silly for not making them before, and for shelling out so much money to buy them pre-made at the store. It might seem silly and counter-intuitive, but making them at home really will make my life easier, not to mention more frugal.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Veggie scraps into stock

First of all, if you don't know the difference between stock and broth, go here. Now that you know there is a difference, ignore it. They're made the same way, so I will use them interchangeably. I don't think it really matters.
No matter how well you use your fabulous, organic, local vegetables, you will probably (inevitably) end up with some scraps. Now, these are fabulous to put into your compost or worm bin. But what does a smart environmentalist and foodie do? Save them and turn them into stock or broth. Seriously. The ends of carrots and parsnips that you won't put in your soup or stew, the ends of onions that you've cut up (take the skin off, but there's usually some viable onion under there), the hard core of cabbage, broccoli stems, the ends of celery, whatever. If it's a flavorful vegetable, throw it in there. Leafy greens are not a good option (they fall apart too easily), nor are potatoes (not flavorful enough). It's got to be something solid, which is why bright root vegetables work so well. Broccoli stems, too. I had some that I didn't want to use in broccoli-cheddar soup, because they were too woody. But that made them perfect for the stock.
I mentioned once before that Shane and I made chicken stock a while back, but it all got thrown out because we just never thought to use it. I'm trying to change that. Vegetable stock is even easier than a meat stock or broth, and just as tasty and nutritious.
When I say easy, I really do mean easy. I've had a bag full of scraps in the fridge for a few weeks now. Thanks to the freshness of the ingredients and the type (lots of winter/cold-hardy/root vegetables) they've been fine for a long period of time, long enough for me to collect a bunch of them. (Some people put them in the freezer if they know it'll take a while to build up enough.) The other night, I felt I had enough and that they would lose flavor/nutrients if I waited any longer, so I turned them into stock. How? Well. Here you go

Vegetable Stock:
-Vegetable scraps

Fill a pot with water, toss in the scraps, and cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for about an hour. I had it simmering while I did my workout. When you think it's gotten all of the nutrients out, strain it. The liquid should be either yellowish or greenish, depending on what you've used, and smell really decadent. That's it. Seriously. It's that easy. The scraps can go out to the compost, and the broth can either be frozen (some people use ice cube trays to make it super easy, then transfer the frozen cubes to either bags or jars for long-term storage) or into something delicious like this recipe. (It is so on my list of food to make soon!) If you're not going to freeze it, my suggestion would be to use meat stock or broth within a few days, and within a week for straight vegetable broth. I'm not a microbiologist or food safety expert, though, so those are just my estimates.
Meat stock is similar, except that you have meat bones in there as well as the vegetables. You can, of course, make broth or stock out of the good parts of meat and vegetables, but why waste them when using your leftovers and scraps makes them so tasty anyway? Stock was originally created as a way to get the most out of food, and it's no less necessary now than it used to be. If you roast a whole chicken, remove as much meat as possible, then save the carcass and turn it into a lovely broth. Don't worry that it won't taste "meaty" enough without the meat--the marrow will get boiled out and add flavor. Beef bones are another common item for stock, and I suppose we could use moose bones to make broth, but we tend to give them to the dog. She loves digging the marrow out of a nice big moose bone, and they can later be filled with things like peanut butter. Actually, that's her favorite toy. She doesn't play with us much, but give her some food to gnaw on and she's the happiest creature in the house. Since it's both frugal and a good use of something which would be wasted otherwise, Shane and I love it too.
Even when you think you're not wasting food, you probably are. Finding new ways to make the most out of what you have is the essence of frugality. When you can create something that's both good for you and for the environment out of that "waste", even better.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

What music can teach about the little things in life

We had our Symphony concert today. It was lovely. We played two concertos, with a visiting violinist and cellist playing the solos. They did a fantastic job and the only reason I'm a little sad about it all is because while I was playing, I couldn't hear them much. Oh well.
But it made me think. I saw a Youtube video a while ago (I can't find it now, darn it!) in which a high school orchestra conductor speaks about why grades are inadequate. He has the orchestra play all the notes properly, but with no emotion behind them. That's an A grade, by school standards. Then he has them play at a B grade level, where each of them makes one mistake. It sounds awful, naturally. Then he has them play the music the way music should be played, with the correct notes, the phrasing, the dynamics, and the emotions behind the notes. It's gorgeous. This, he explains, is why grades are so inadequate as a measure of what a child has learned. Further, it's an emphatic and well thought out explanation as to why the arts are important in school, and I couldn't agree more.
But it has ramifications beyond just schools and grades, too. It's a perfect metaphor for the saying that "every little bit counts". The next time someone tells you that personal actions don't count, look them in the eye and say, "How would your favorite band sound if they played and sang just one or two notes wrong in every song? Would they be your favorite band then? My actions matter just as much."
No man is an island. We're all connected, and what you do has an impact on everyone else in the world. And as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Those actions are important, no matter what anyone tries to tell you. I think that saying "personal actions don't matter" is another way for someone to try to say that you don't matter, and that's just not true. You matter. Your actions matter. So hold your head up high and know that holding yourself to a higher standard is never a bad thing.
For this week's total: $72. It would have been far less, but on Friday I had a sudden craving for curried chicken salad. How could I resist? Mmm...curry.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Bulk spices

I've been doing my best to buy in bulk for a while now, but the one area that I have consistently forgotten to even look in the bulk section is for spices. Well, not anymore. I needed cayenne pepper the other day for our red beans and rice (since I make my own creole spice mix) and finally brought a little plastic container (saved and washed out from restaurant leftovers--I don't like plastic, but it can be handy to re-use as a take-out container or for some bulk items which can't go into a bag, like spices and olives; glass is too heavy, you have to get the tare and that takes a while) and checked out the bulk section. Holy crap! It's cheap! At first I saw the price and thought, "8.35? Is that even worth it?" But that's the per pound pricing. I got about the same amount that I would have bought in a little bottle for $.91, making it about $4-5 cheaper. When I looked at the rest of the prices, they were comparable in their relative cheapness, and Safeway has a good variety. (I think Fred's does, too, but I happened to be at Safeway.) Most of our commonly used herbs will be easy to grow myself (like oregano and basil) but spices only grow in specific places. Buying them in bulk was a total revelation.
Additionally, you can often find better quality spices in bulk. Now that we have a micro-plane grater, we can buy and use whole cinnamon sticks and nutmeg, star anise, things like that. Whole spices also last longer, with better quality. And after all, if you're making a lovely meal for your family or yourself, you want to use the best ingredients possible.
As far as how to get them and take them home, I'll probably continue to use the small plastic container until I can think of something better. It's light enough that I don't feel the need to get the tare, and it's easy to remember to grab. When I get home I can transfer the spices to a glass container with a masking tape label.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Fighting off colds

My household is trying very hard not to succumb to colds right now. I did sort of give in on Monday and took the day off from work. Not so much because I was feeling truly awful, but I was exhausted (more than even a super busy weekend would account for) and my throat was a bit sore. But by Tuesday I was feeling better so it was back to work.
On Wednesday, however, when I got home Shane was still in bed. Not sleeping, just lying there watching a tv show on his newly returned laptop. He said he hadn't gotten out of bed all day except to go to the bathroom. This might not seem worrisome in some people, but Shane is rarely sick. When he is sick, he's almost never this ill. When I got the flu on our honeymoon and had about two full weeks of feeling miserable, he had about two days of not feeling so great. Since he's a grumpy jerk when he's really ill, I appreciate his active immune system. :) Since I was home, he did get out of bed, but only to go sit in the dining room while I figured out what to make for dinner.
Toward the end of the evening last night, my throat was starting to feel sore again. I absolutely cannot be sick right now, with too much going on both at work and with musical stuff. (My boss is out of the office for two days, so I have to be there to open. Then, I have two extra Symphony rehearsals, a "Music Man" rehearsal on Sunday, which I need to leave halfway through to go straight to the Symphony concert. It's going to be packed, crazy, and I cannot even describe how hard it is to play well when you're ill.)
So what am I doing to ward off a cold? Lots of things. First, I exercised last night. This sounds counter-intuitive, and it would have been so easy to skip because "I'm not feeling well", but studies have shown that people who exercise regularly have better immune systems and recover faster when they do get sick. The key is to exercise moderately, because a strenuous workout can actually decrease your immune system and put more stress on your body. (Don't go run a marathon when you're sick.) So while I didn't push myself to exhaustion, I definitely did get in a good workout, enough to break a sweat.
The secondary effect of the workout is that I ended up drinking a lot of water. I tend to drink more in the morning, and my water consumption tapers off toward the end of the day. A good workout in the evening prompts me to drink a lot of water.
I went to bed a little earlier last night. Not much, just about half an hour earlier. But it helps. Even though my nose is a little stuffier, and my throat is a little more sore than yesterday, I feel more rested than I should. A good night's sleep has made all the difference between being miserable and being well enough.
I made a smoothie for myself for breakfast. I love smoothies. But my smoothie consumption has decreased as winter goes on, partly because we're out of our saved frozen fruit and need to buy it (in its plastic packaging) and partly because I find myself wanting a hot breakfast when it's so cold out. Right now, however, upping my intake of fruits and veggies is more important, and a smoothie is a super easy way of doing that.

-1 handful of spinach
-Frozen fruits of your choice (I used strawberries, cherries, and blackberries this morning) measuring about 2-3 cups
-Honey and spices (optional)--sometimes a bit of honey to sweeten can be nice, but we don't have honey right now. Cinnamon can give the smoothie the illusion of being sweeter than it is, and depending on your fruit and tastes a hint of nutmeg or ginger can also work really well.
-Half of an avocado (optional--doesn't add much flavor, but makes the texture smoother and more silky)
-Plain yogurt or milk.

Since blenders don't work so well with frozen fruit, I get the fruits in there the night before and leave it in the fridge to thaw out. In the morning I simply add whatever other ingredients I want and blend it up.
The yogurt in a smoothie like this can especially help your immune system. Not only does it have the good bacteria that your gut needs, but it has protein.
Which is the last thing you should do. Increasing your intake of protein actually helps to boost your immune system when you're ill. (This is one of those handy things I learned in my nutrition class.) For dinner tonight, I've got the Crockpot cooking red beans and rice for us. The rice and the beans combine to make a complete protein, and it has a bit of meat in it as well. Just to make sure it's totally nutritious (and because we're out of white rice, ;) we're using brown rice. I'm trying a new thing today: soaking it. I've heard lots of things about soaking grains and how good it can be for you. I don't know whether that's true or not, I'm just doing it to try to get a better texture. The only reason we usually use white rice is simply because it doesn't end up as hard. Brown rice, in my experience, tends to be a little crunchy and hard, even after being cooked. Perhaps soaking the rice will make it softer.
I'm loving the recipe my friend sent to us. It's cheap, it's very nutritious, and it's easy. All of those things make it perfect for when you're not feeling well.

So what's the perfect house?

When I ask myself what I want my house to be like--if I could have the perfect home for living in Fairbanks--there are a number of different qualities and a lot of factors to take in.

I think the first and most important, for both me and Shane, is that it have a large kitchen. One of our problems with the current place is that it's just laid out very poorly. There's not enough room for two people to comfortably be standing in there, let alone be working at the same time. Besides being half broken (the drawers are no longer on runners, it's just wood scraping against wood so everything in the cabinet beneath a given drawer has bits of wood in it) and extremely (I cannot emphasize that enough) ugly, the cabinets are also poorly designed. Many of the shelves aren't tall enough, so things like olive oil and vinegar sit on the counter because there's nowhere to put them. (Except, perhaps, in the liquor cabinet, but I'm too short to comfortably reach up there every time I want oil and vinegar.) We have cabinets in the corners that are quite deep, but the doors are so small, and it's so dark in the back, that you can't use most of the space. We have literally lost things back there because we couldn't see them. Something like a lazy susan would be excellent, but even then there's not enough space to put one in. We have an entire drawer which we can't use because it was put in before the dishwasher was, and the dishwasher sticks out too far so the drawer does nothing more than move an inch before bumping the dishwasher. Two of the major appliances in there (dishwasher and oven) are old and horridly inefficient. There are more problems, but you get the idea. For two people who love to cook, and who spend as much time in the kitchen as Shane and I do, it's a major grievance.

The next major thing on my list is wood floors. I hate carpeting. It off-gases chemicals (like those wonderful flame retardants) and traps allergens, so the argument can be made that they're just generally bad for you. But beyond that, the most compelling argument for me, is that they're also very hard to clean. They stain easily, and it's actually a lot of work to take care of them. (Think of the hours of your life spent vacuuming, and trying to get every little crevice and nook. *Shudder*) I much prefer sweeping and even mopping to vacuuming and using a rug shampooer. Plus, the broom and mop don't scare my pets. :) If you think the cleaning issue is small, guess again. As I'm rather fond of telling people, there are babies and lots of pets in my future. Both of those things are incredibly messy and prone to creating sticky, staining messes that are hard to clean. Given the choice between a wood floor with a rug which can be rolled up and moved to safer areas, or wall-to-wall carpeting, which one do you think would be easier? Carpets need to be replaced every so often, too, because they start to show the wear and tear and all of their stains. It's not like this process happens slowly, either. The carpet in our apartment was new when we moved in (if I'd found the place before, I would have told our landlord just to leave the old carpet) but it doesn't look like it despite our best efforts to keep it fairly clean. From my experience with wood floors, depending on how well you take care of them, the type of wood, and where in the house they are (cork might be better in the kitchen) they need to be replaced, oh, every hundred years or so.

If at all possible, I'd like my future house to be oriented either South or North to take advantage of natural light, with big (triple-paned!) windows on the South-facing side and much smaller ones to the North. It drives me nuts how many houses around here aren't situated to take advantage of any natural light, or which (like our apartment) have large windows on the North side and smaller ones on the South side. It's stupid. When we get so little natural light in the wintertime as it is, we need to take the fullest advantage of it. (In the summer, the sun circles the sky so it doesn't really matter what direction your house faces.) I realize that around here you're losing massive amounts of heat from pretty much any window, but less so from South-facing ones and the offsets (like natural light and, thus, a reduction of electricity used for lighting) are worth it. Since I'm planning to have thick curtains (or even window quilts) on all of my windows, the heat loss will be minimized when the sun is not up.

Plus, South-facing windows means more good places to put my plants and a bigger indoor garden. If there's not enough space on the windowsills, I'm going to make little shelves to hold plants. I already have the design in my head.

The next is to have at least a backup of wood heat. I don't know that I want my house entirely heated with wood because I know that at times, around here, that can be cold and seem almost foolish. (When it gets to -50 or -60, homes with wood heat will sometimes get close to freezing because it's so difficult to heat that much space with just one wood stove.) But a wood stove in the wintertime means that heating oil is reduced, and we can have greater efficiency with certain things--for instance, to heat up water I would just constantly keep a kettle on the stove, rather than plugging in our electric one. Why not use that heat source for other things which need heat? Some things which need to be cooked slowly could also be cooked on top of the wood stove in a dutch oven. (Although I'm not sure about that--it would be an experiment.) I know from J's parents' wood stove that it certainly does a good job of heating up things placed on top of it so I don't see why that wouldn't work. Not only would it reduce our dependence on heating oil, it would also reduce our dependence on coal-fired electricity. In the summer, of course, it would be more efficient to go back to the electric kettle and such, but this would be a huge boost for the winter.

I want our place to be close to town still. In fact, if we could find this paragon of a house in our current neighborhood I'd find a way to make the financing work right now, somehow. We're close enough to friends and the University and the grocery stores to mostly ditch our vehicle, especially in the summertime. Why would I want to give that up? Living in the hills, where it tends to be a lot warmer, would have some increased efficiency such as not having to heat our home as much. And that really can't be discounted here. But I think that all of that efficiency would be erased because we would end up relying on a car so much more. I know myself, and even in the summertime I'm not going to want to bike 15 miles just to go to the grocery store.

A composting toilet would be a really nice thing to have. When I first heard about them, and the concept of "humanure", the guy profiled in the article had just a bucket he did his business in, then threw a bunch of wood chips on top to keep the smell down. (He insisted that there wasn't any.) I thought, well now. That's taking things a bit too far. And that's coming from someone who lived with an outhouse for six months. (I'd rather have the outhouse again, to be honest.) But a real, actual composting toilet is nothing like that. Depending on which model you get, they can apparently use either little or no water, don't smell, and create rich fertilizers and compost. (That part I have no problem with, but you might. However, if the thought of eating food grown from that compost skeeves you out, you can always just grow flowers with it.)

As long as I'm dreaming, I'll add solar or some other renewable energy source on here. I realize that solar power has a lot of problems (such as the minerals and metals it uses, the inefficiency, and all of the problems of Alaska not having sunlight in the winter) but it's a helluva lot better than the coal power I'm currently relying on.

I want to have an arctic entry. I honestly don't see why every house around here doesn't have one of these. They help to keep your home warm and more efficient because all of the hot air doesn't go rushing out as soon as you open the door. It also gives a space for you to take off all of your gear and to store it. The best one I saw (oddly enough, in a rental cabin and not a house) had a bench around it with open space underneath to store shoes and boots, pegs for coats, and a shelf for helmets, hats, and other things that you'd want to keep handy for the outdoors. Since I saw that one, I've been dreaming of having an arctic entry just like it.

Some of these things, obviously, would be relatively easy to change after we buy a house (like the floors or the toilet). Other things (like the orientation and what area) are things that we'll have to watch for carefully when we're looking at buying a home. The last thing we'll need to look closely at is the price, since neither of us wants to be beholden to the bank for the rest of our lives where our home is concerned. As you might have noticed over the last few years, that's worked out very poorly for a lot of people.
I'm sure that there are plenty of things that I'm leaving out here, but my perfect dream house is quite efficient and suits me. Did you know that the average stay in a "dream" home is only about 7 years? People buy their "dream" house, fix it up, get bored with it, and move on to something newer and better. I'm not like that. When I buy a house, I want to stay in it for a long time, so I want to make it perfect for me.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Why I want a house

I think a lot of us grow up with the idea that to really "make it" and to be seen as truly successful, you need to own your own place. I see a lot of problems with this because, for one thing, there's really not enough land for everyone to own their own place. It's just not the best use of land to have everyone living in single family homes. Second, it's far more efficient to have many people living in one space than it is to have only a few people living in that same amount of space. Since heat travels up, when we build up we don't waste as much heat, not to mention other resources. When you have many people living on a smaller amount of land, almost every resource used goes down. This is one of the reasons that, by some estimates, people who live in New York are the most efficient of all. They all live on top of each other, drive less frequently than others do, and need less heating/lighting and other resources because they don't take up as much space as the rest of us. (I think mostly because they can't afford to. :)
So why, when staying in our apartment is "obviously" the greener choice, do I want to own my own home? After all, houses can be a hassle. Instead of calling the landlord to fix things when the heater goes out, in my own home I'd be the one responsible for fixing it, or at least calling (and paying for) someone else to fix it. As our situation stands, we have quite a few people in what was once a one-family home. For most of the last year, actually, we've had 8 people total (one of them a toddler) in our building. (Plus, over the summer, one guy living in our driveway.) That's more than most homes can boast, so while it might be a drafty, inefficient place to heat, at least we're doing well on the efficiency of scale meter. (That is, divide the energy used to heat the place by the number of people it's keeping warm.)
I realize that there are a lot of problems to owning one's own home, and how expensive it can be. (Seeing what J and L have gone through since they bought their house has really helped.) So what justifications do I have?
For one thing, I don't make improvements on our place. I don't buy weatherstripping, I don't buy curtains to keep more of the heat in, and I certainly don't insulate our place. Because it's not really our place, so I'm not going to spend my money and time and effort fixing up something that's not ours. I made curtains for our last place, but even though we've been here longer I won't do that for this one. (The old curtains don't fit these windows.) Again, I'm not going to put in more time and effort for something that might not fit the windows on whatever place we settle in. In our cabin, I spent over $100 buying fabric from a small, local store and then many, many evenings sewing the curtains by hand. (Not half bad--and thanks for showing me how to sew, Mom!) It was a lot of effort, and money. (After I made them someone asked, "Why didn't you just buy old sheets at Value Village to make curtains out of?" Facepalm moment.) Even if I did go through the effort, and left said curtains for the next tenants, who's to say they'd use them or keep them? So I close the blinds and cross my fingers that they help a little bit. Am I wrong to admit this? I think a lot of renters feel the same way. It's different if you own your condo or apartment (as is more common in bigger cities, such as New York). You might be living in close proximity to other people, but it's still your place. I think that makes all the difference.
There are also things about the land itself that I want to work on, but can't when it's not my land. I want to build raised beds, but it's just not possible in our current place because there's nowhere to put them. (And nowhere that the dogs won't get into.) I can't make my garden as big as I'd like to because I have to always remember that there are other people to think of, other people who might want to use the space. (They almost never do, but they might....) Some of the things that I want to plant take a long time to mature. Currant bushes are fabulous, but I won't plant some that I won't get any use out of and it's not like I can easily tear them out and plant them somewhere else. Same with apple trees. Why would I plant something that takes years to pay off if I only plan to be here a short while? And who's to say my landlord would even agree to it if I wanted to plant one here?
While our upstairs neighbors have seemed ok with all of the chaos of having six people in a space not much larger than mine and Shane's (they have the area over the garage to give them more room), that's not what we'd like to do. I could see us having one child in our space, but not two. And to have things not drive me crazy, once again I'd be wanting to make more permanent changes to the apartment. (Like, you know making the closet space useful. Or fixing some all of the cabinets.) The upstairs neighbors have a bit more of a vested interest in the place because the mom is the daughter of our landlord. When she fixes things up, it's benefiting her extended family. I don't know what kind of arrangement they have, but it's obviously a long term agreement and H (the neighbor) gets free reign to update and remodel things as she sees fit. (I know that last year the master bathroom got an overhaul.)
In the end, I guess it's all about what would be efficient for me. If I didn't have grand gardening dreams, if I didn't have specific ideas for what I want in my home, if I didn't want some livestock (chickens!), if our place was just laid out better and more energy efficient in general I would probably have no problem staying here longer. But there are so many little things that drive a person crazy (like the closets and the cabinets, that soft spot on the floor in the kitchen because the boards are rotting, the window that's held closed with a zip tie....) and I don't have any power to change them. We haven't even hung pictures that we've had lying around since we moved in because we're afraid to put too many holes in the walls! It's very odd to be living someplace that you don't really think of as "home" because you've been telling yourself that it's ephemeral and that you'll move "sometime". (Home is wherever Shane and the pets are; the apartment itself isn't home.)
I think that measuring efficiency more in terms of land space is a silly way of deciding things. After all, Alaska has plenty of land. We're the biggest state (almost three times the size of Texas) and have far fewer than 1 million people living here. Sure, I'll lose efficiency in terms of how many people our building will heat. But what I'm going to do with our land (when we get it) is just as important. In our own place I can effect real change on the scale I want to. With a real interest in the outcomes, Shane will be more interested in making our space efficient, too, and in reducing our resource use. (Back to our old argument about where to set the thermostat....) In that way, our lives will be far more efficient.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Plant happiness

Yesterday I said that my basil was starting to sprout. Today it's my bean and peas! If all goes well, I will have some lovely, fresh, homegrown produce before summer arrives. However, I'm still looking for more ideas for big planters so that I can start tomatoes and some more bean/pea plants.
I need to be more on the ball, and make some more milk jug planters for my indoor herb garden. However, I did get one of those plastic bag baskets made (I'll post a picture later), and a hook put in the ceiling to hang it from. I'm going to make a second one to hang down from the first basket as a sort of lower level. I've got the "plarn" all set to go, but haven't had time to actually sit down and work on it.
Even the Christmas cactus and the amaryllis at work are getting into the act--both are all set to bloom again. Since last year was the first year for the Christmas cactus to bloom, I'm quite pleased that it's put out more than one flower this year. As for the amaryllis, I'm just hoping that it blooms before the Botanical Gardens ask for their plants back. (Also, how fitting is it that the amaryllis is about to bloom just as I'm starting rehearsals for "The Music Man"? If you don't know why that's fitting, go rent or borrow the movie.)
Bliss is when a plan comes together. When I told Shane the rest of my grand plans (like borrowing a stud finder so that I can put more hooks in the ceiling) he said, "But I don't want to live in a conservatory! Don't you have enough plants?" I told him to deal with it, it's just the one room (the dining room) and he doesn't spend much time in there anyway. :)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Serious weekending--Weekly total

Whew! We've had a busier weekend than any in a long time. Three separate events on Saturday night alone which we were invited to (I chose two, Shane chose one, and we left the other out entirely because it was going on all weekend so there were other events to go to) with many friends driving or flying up from Anchorage for the different things. I won't go into details about everything (how do you describe all of it?) but it was fun. Usually Sundays are my day to relax, get housework done, and generally gear up for the week. Not yesterday. I started the day by making a big breakfast for five guys, over to play games. (Zucchini pancakes for the win!) We actually went out to dinner, a send-off for a friend who ended up missing his flight back to Anchorage. And I was almost late for my first rehearsal for "The Music Man".
Next weekend won't be any easier, and all I can tell myself is that this is only a taste of the business that summer will bring so I'd better get used to it. It's almost a good thing that our winter is so drawn-out at the end, because I end up needing all of that time to get ready!
For this week's total: I don't have one. I'm guessing about $100, but I honestly don't know. Shane won't tell me how much he spent on the stuff for Valentine's Day, so I'm guessing based on what he bought and what I spent. Totally worth it. Most of my amount was toiletries, rather than food, but it was still a big month for spending money. And the next one will probably be just as big, with our birthdays coming up.
One final happiness, however: basil sprouts!

Friday, February 17, 2012

I hate sitting still, a.k.a. How not to go crazy at work

If you're like me, you've been dreaming about Friday afternoon since you opened your eyes on Monday morning. It's not because my job is so onerous or difficult (maybe a little boring), it's because I work a desk job. And I really, really, really can't stand sitting still. I've never been able to. Now, as far as I know I don't have ADD or anything like that. It's not the concentration part I have trouble with, it's just that I don't like to be sitting still. Even when I'm sitting and doing something active (like playing in the Symphony) I have a foot tapping. I need to fidget, and I need to be active.
So having a desk job is possibly one of the worst things I could have done to myself. It's a special kind of torture we people have invented for ourselves, and many studies and articles have shown that it's not good for you to sit all day. (There are four different links in that sentence.) I do get to do some things which don't chain me to my desk, but they're few and far between. Summer things, mostly. Or once per week tasks. So how do I keep myself from going crazy every day? I have a few tips for others like myself.
The first is making reasons for myself to stand up frequently. We have a coffee pot at work which I use to make tea in the morning. This serves a dual purpose since I not only get up to fix my cup of tea, but I then have to pee a whole lot. :) (And it helps warm me up when it's cold out, and it ensures that I get enough liquid...ok, so maybe more than a dual purpose.) Even just the short break to stretch out my legs is helpful. If you don't like tea or coffee, just go get yourself some plain water. But be sure to get up frequently, and make reasons if you have to.
Next, I go to the bathroom at the far end of my building. There's one right next to my office, but that doesn't give me much of a chance to move. The other one isn't so far away that anyone would notice me taking an extra long bathroom break or anything, but it's definitely more of a break from the sitting.
Once I'm in the bathroom, provided it's empty, I do a few simple exercises. My favorites are easy to do while I'm washing my hands. The first: I lift my leg out to the side, fairly high to work my obliques a little bit. I do fifteen reps on each side. (This also gives my hands a little chance to dry, since I've stopped using paper towels at work.) Then I do a sort of mini squat. Legs together, I just bend my knees a little bit, doing another 15 reps of this. It doesn't take long at all for these moves but it helps me a lot.
Even if you don't take a lunch, everyone gets 15 minute breaks. Use them! I take one of mine to go for a short walk after eating (which I do at my desk, since I don't take an actual lunch). It helps me digest, gets me out in the daylight for a few minutes, and gets me moving. Rain, shine, snow, -50, whatever. I always get out for at least a short walk. If you take an actual lunch hour, how hard would it be to spend 15-20 minutes of that walking or jogging? Especially if you pack a lunch, rather than going out to eat.
The final piece of advice: sit on anything except a chair. It's too easy to slump over in a chair, no matter how ergonomic it is, and it's bad for you. After just a few months of working at my job I would go home every day with my back hurting. The very day I switched to sitting on an exercise ball instead, my back stopped hurting. I've never since gone home with my back hurting from sitting. Of course, the ball also provides a way for me to fidget. I don't know how much of a core workout I'm getting, but I certainly have new ways to move around. Mostly I bounce, but sometimes I'll sway side to side or front to back. I've read many articles saying that switching to a ball can help you lose weight. Well, I don't know about the losing part, but I definitely stopped gaining weight after I made the switch.
One note about the ball, though. Be prepared for odd looks from your coworkers, questions, and if you work in a public area like I do, stupid comments and jokes. (And I do mean stupid.) Even people peering over my desk to see why I'm bouncing is very common. In fact, I think I've only had a couple of days go by without a single person mentioning it or asking about it. So be prepared.
Sometime soon, I want to ask about getting a standing desk instead. I'm sure the surplus department has at least one, and an appropriate chair in case I do need to sit. This is something Shane has been urging me to do for a long time, but it's never been the "right" time to ask my boss. Moving the furniture would disrupt operations in my office for at least a few hours. So I'll probably ask this summer, when things are quiet.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Less-consumer Valentine's Day/Pseudoversary

I say our celebration was "less-consumer" because we did, in fact, buy special things for our meal. It was also the celebration of our "pseudoversary" (our anniversary is our wedding day, so the marker of when we started dating is our pseudoversary) marking 5 years of togetherness. Shane complained, as he does every year, "Why do girls make such a big thing over how much time you've been together?" I replied, "Five years, Shane. How many relationships do you know that have made it to five years?" He thought for a second and nodded his head, because it's true. Even among our married friends (and my one married sibling) a lot of their relationships haven't made it to five years. Some of the older people we know (like family friends and relatives) who've made it beyond the five year mark are suddenly breaking up and divorcing right and left it seems. So while the concept of "Valentine's Day"--a day marketed as being all about you and your love, but which really just guilts you into thinking you need to buy something for someone else--escapes me, marking the time we've been together is important. It's not just about the time, it's about the quality of that time, how much we've changed together and done for each other, and how much we still love each other.
So what did we do? Well. Because I had Symphony rehearsal on Valentine's Day (which I couldn't miss because we video recorded the national anthem and the Alaska Flag Song for the upcoming Governor's Cup hockey games!) it ended up being more like a half week of celebration. On Monday night, I made cookies. Not just any cookies. Apricot cookies with a lemon glaze. They're out of the "Indulgence Cookies" cookbook, if you care to try them. Which you should, because they're amazing. (The book also has some of the best maple cookies I've ever tried. It's worth getting. Or borrowing, if you live near me.) They're rich and buttery and I don't make them that often, so when I do they're a giant hit. I had them in the fridge cooling and at one point I saw Shane casually going into the kitchen so I yelled, "Don't eat the cookie dough!" And of course he said, "What? I would never!" around a mouthful of dough. (If you're concerned about salmonella--which I'm not, particularly--these cookies don't have eggs in them.)
Since Shane was planning to make more than one item for our Wednesday dinner, I figured that we'd be too stuffed to want dessert anyway, so making it early was a good choice.
He absolutely would not tell me what he had planned for dinner, or let me see the preparations. Since he also warned me, "I've never made any of this before," it could have been any number of things. He asked me later what I'd thought we were having and I said that I didn't even try to guess. Then we bickered about whether or not there were infinite possibilities that it could have been. (I won with the argument, "There might be infinite combinations of food items, but there are not infinite combinations of things you'd actually serve to me." And then we came up with as gross a menu as we could think of.) Since I wanted to hang out with him while he cooked, I ended up turning on "The Princess Bride" in the living room so that we could watch it "together". Toward the end, though, Shane made me pause it and go back to the bedroom to read while he finished getting dinner ready.
About ten minutes later he came back to put on a nice shirt, then cover my eyes as he led me out to the living room. He sat me down and when I opened my eyes, he'd lit a bunch of candles around the room so it was lovely. He had music playing (he made a Pandora playlist based off the song we danced to at our wedding) and on my plate were shrimp fettucini alfredo, chicken bruschetta, and garlic toast. There was a bottle of chianti. (We don't usually have wine with dinner, but we did pretty much every night in Italy.) On the computer he had the slideshow of our honeymoon pictures going. He recreated a little bit of Italy for me. <3 At one point I looked over and said, "Well, it's almost like we're eating by the Colosseum again."
It was a lovely evening, and the perfect way to celebrate a pseudoversary. I showed part of my thanks by doing a load of dishes for him. :) I hope everyone else's V-Day plans turned out just as lovely.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

More on women's rights, and why I'm angry

I read this article earlier today about a law in Virginia (as yet unsigned by the governor, but that same governor has promised to sign it) that would mandate a non-medically necessary probe of a woman's vagina when she seeks an abortion. The absurd-but-in-no-way-funny part is that the people who signed this into law are the ones most likely to claim that they have "morality" on their side. After all, they're defending the Rights of the Unborn! Protectors of Children and all that is Godly! But the truth is, they're mandating the rape of a woman by medical instrument. They're going to force good and honest doctors who want to help their patients to go against the Hippocratic oath. You can't even treat your dog this bad. And yet, somehow, in the minds of these people it's perfectly fine and even justified to treat women this way.
And that gets to the heart of the matter for me. There are people who are actually trying to treat women as less than human. They're trying to undercut, undermine, and just plain roll back basic protections and human rights for women under the guise of "morality" and "family values". Does the family no longer include the woman? I'm confused. Perhaps this is their sneaky way of saying that gay couples are actually better?
Are these really the types of values we want our children growing up with? Because it kind of sounds more like the Taliban is trying to take over the U.S. government. I don't know about you, but I want all the children near and dear to me to grow up with "moral" figures who actually are moral, who walk and talk and preach exactly the values they truly believe in. (As in, if you're going to claim to be Christian then you need to actually do the things Jesus said to do: love others as much as you love yourself, be kind to the poor and care for the needy....) Maybe I was under the mistaken impression that "morality" is about more than just "what I believe is always right so any measures I take to force my views on you are also right". But that's what a lot of our political (especially on the conservative end) discussion has devolved into. It doesn't have anything to do with morality, but claiming that your beliefs are more moral does seem to work for some people.
This really is a war on women's rights. Topeka, Kansas, said for a while that it would not prosecute domestic violence because it, apparently, wasn't in their budget. (I'm betting that prosecuting minor drug crimes was in their budget, but not basic protections against abusers.) After much outcry, they reversed the proposal (warning, that article has a stupidly loud ad that you can't get rid of), but not until after some women had been turned away. Considering that most domestic violence is never reported, those women represent just a small number of the abusers in that city. The bravery they showed in stepping forward, in trying to escape their situations, will never be heralded. But it is a brave act. I hope they got the needed help, and that their abusers are appropriately punished.
I get so mad at the rhetoric saying we're the "greatest country on Earth". Actually being the greatest country would require more than saying that we are. It would take work and effort that our politicians seem unwilling to understand or to put in. Because, you know, no one gets into politics to actually work and solve problems, right? You get into politics because it's prestigious and there's lots of money to be made. And as long as you can keep telling everyone that we're the greatest nation on Earth, they'll eat it up and reelect you whether or not it's true, and despite the fact that you've done nothing to make it the truth. And never mind the fact that you're trying to treat women worse than some third world countries do, and to violate international human rights. You have Morality!
If it was one isolated incident or just one state government that was trying to limit women's rights, that in itself would be worrying but minor enough that I could merely shake my head and bemoan people's stupidity. The fact that there are at least five different states that are attacking women's rights on multiple fronts, as well as the federal government, and all of the Republican candidates, and religious institutions. (Just check how many different links are in that sentence. It's staggering what roughly two minutes of internet searching will turn up.) And now it's not even just abortion, it's contraception too. (I should point out here that it's not all Republicans who are stupid when it comes to women's rights.) In a country where almost everyone uses, has used, or will use contraception at some point in their lives (including 98% of Catholic women) it's an absurd thing for a major political figure to try to stir up controversy about. It's downright baffling in its stupidity. And it's dangerous. Contraception is one of the biggest innovations in the field of women's health in all of history. The fact that women can limit their pregnancies, can avoid unwanted pregnancies if they have a known condition for which preganancy is potentially life-threatening, and can space out their pregnancies alone are good reasons to keep it. The fact that women and even children are healthier because of access to contraception doesn't seem to have any bearing on the political discourse, however.
Beyond the health issues, anyone interested in actually helping or preventing more children being born into poverty should be interested in providing free birth control. It's not only good for the parents to not have so many children, but it's good for the children too since most children born into poverty will never escape it. However, I often find that it's the people who are most rabidly against government supports, "big government" and abortion who are the ones most prone to making statements about how "poor people should all be sterilized". Apparently the exception to that is if someone comes up with a policy which is effective at preventing pregnancy. Do they realize that they're being inconsistent? (Probably not.)
Anyone who thinks that they want to limit or ban abortions because of women's health is deluding themselves. In places where abortion is outlawed, you get situations where women throw themselves down stairs, or use coat hangers. You also get situations where abortion by violence becomes the norm for getting out of an unwanted pregnancy, such as in England in the middle ages. (Please also note that the modern Catholic sentiment that "all abortion is Evil" doesn't fit with their historical mantra. It used to be believed that a child didn't develop a soul until the "quickening", or the first discernible fetal movement. Any attempt to limit or get rid of a fetus before that time was totally legit in the eyes of the church. Why the turnaround?)
I demand to be treated with the same rights and privileges that any human being should be endowed with. I'm saying right here and right now that I have more rights than a fetus. I have the right to make decisions for myself about what is best for my body, myself, and my family. I will not be treated like a second class citizen because I'm endowed with a vagina. I refuse to be treated like an animal in matters of reproductivity, or to let someone else dictate my choices. I refuse to let myself be treated like I'm incapable of making "the right" choices. I'm an intelligent, rational person and it's time my government started treating me like one.

Living Alaskan

Last night as I walked to Symphony rehearsal, I saw a moose. Don't worry! It was decently far away, and no threat. But it was a reminder that I live in a place unlike any other. After all, how many other parts of the U.S., or even the world, can claim that very large wildlife are a regular part of day to day life?
My standpartner and I have decided that someone needs to video record our rehearsals and put together a "best of" video for our conductor. He's amazing. The faces he makes, the things he says, all of it. Last night he was telling us how a phrase should be played and it went something like this: "It's pum-pa-ta-PUM-PUM, da-DUM, da-DUM. Not, PUM-pa-ta-pum-pum, DA-dum, DA-dum. It's lovely that way, but it's not how Beethoven heard it." I started giggling. (Get it? Because Beethoven was deaf, and couldn't hear anything, so it's funny....) If I sound like I'm mocking Dr. Zilberkant, I'm really not. It's fabulous to have a conductor who's so passionate about the music. You want to work hard for him.
On the way home, the Northern Lights had just come out. Big green ribbons across the sky, shifting and moving gently. I actually get to see the Lights so rarely because they seem to either come out when it's super cold and I don't want to be outside longer than I have to, or they pop out in the middle of the night when I'm sleeping. So it really is a treat when I get to see them. Shane doesn't care, unless they're moving rapidly or there's more than one color. (Green is the most usual, with purple being next in my experience. But you can also get blues and reds and maybe even some yellow?) When they're dancing, there's nothing else like it that you'll ever see. (The video I linked to is time-lapse, but sometimes I've seen the Lights moving and dancing about that fast. They shift across the sky in swirls and bands and ribbons and you stand there with your mouth hanging open, trying to take it all in at once. It's breathtaking.) Last night, I scurried to get to a place without so many streetlights for better viewing. They were not nearly the best I've seen, but still magnificent. After all, this is one of those things that not many other people in the world can claim to have seen firsthand. I thought about rushing home to try to take a picture, but decided to enjoy them while I could. It was a good decision, since they were almost gone by the time I got home.
This morning, I didn't have to be at work until an hour after my usual time. By the time my alarm went off this morning, it was already starting to get light outside. This is the first time I've woken up to light on any but a weekend morning since the dark season started, and it was a lovely way to wake up. Now, with the return of light, is when people start thinking, "Spring is right around the corner! And then, summer...." It's a tantalizing, seductive thought, and it's false. February does this to us every year. We leave the darkness and the cold of January behind for the relative warmth and light of the start of February. (It's been about 20 to 30 above, rather than 50 below.) But I know, I just know, that sometime soon the temperature will drop again and we'll be back down to -30 or even -40. It's like the weather plays with us, toys with our emotions. It's hard to know which is worse, the almost absolute darkness and the cold around the solstice, or the temperature drop after the first taste of spring. Those are the two times of year when people here are just grumpy constantly. So every day I remind myself: this warmth will not last. Don't get used to it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Weekend fare--Piroshke

I know I've mentioned piroshke before, but they're so amazing that I have to talk about them again. Piroshke is what Shane calls "Russian Hot Pockets". In the tradition of pretty much every country ever, where portable food ends up being a necessity for somebody (think: sandwiches, Irish pasties, Italian stromboli, things of that sort) a piroshke is simply bread wrapped around a filling and cooked. They're delicious, versatile, and perfect for when you know you'll have a busy week and want to prepare something super easy to grab on your way out the door.
I say they're weekend fare because it does take some time to make them. At least, if you're going to do them right it does. (You could buy pre-made bread dough, but that defeats the purpose of cooking at home I think.) I was actually taught how to make these by a Russian, so they're as authentic as they can be.
Basically, you have two parts. There's the bread dough, and the filling. The filling can be whatever you want it to be, so how you make the bread depends entirely on what you want to fill it with since they can be either sweet or savory. For meals I usually do a moose/onion mix and a cabbage/carrot mix. You can also do mashed potato filling (for a starch and carb overload), and I was thinking of trying a broccoli/cheddar mix sometime. (If you try it before me, let me know how it turns out.) I've only once made a sweet dessert-like piroshke, but there's a reason for that. It turns out that homemade blueberry pie filling/cream cheese makes a dangerously delicious combination.
Make bread dough like usual, either plain white or half wheat/half white works well. (Don't do sourdoughs. They wouldn't taste right.) You can make as much or as little bread dough as you want. For the two of us to eat a few meals of these I find that two cups of liquid makes the right amount, although that would probably only feed a family of four for one meal with a few leftover.
If you're making a sweet piroshke, up the sugar content to make the dough sweet.
Set the dough out to rise. When it's almost risen, start preparing your filling(s). This last time I did half a cabbage with one grated carrot, cooked until the cabbage was tender but not mushy, with just a bit of salt for flavoring. Since Shane hates cabbage, the other filling was a pound of ground moose meat with 3/4 of an onion (leftover from something else) chopped small. I sweated the onion first, then added the meat to brown. Play around with seasonings. I did salt, pepper, garlic powder, and two dashes of allspice. (It's really yummy dipped in barbecue sauce.) But I've also thought that Worcestershire sauce would be a good addition (I'm trying that next time) and you can season it however you prefer.
When the bread is done rising and the filling is done cooking, then you have to put it all together. You'll need another pan or skillet for this. (We use an electric skillet, but one on the stove top would work just as well.) Pour some oil in and get it heating up. (Any oil works. I've used canola, peanut, and olive oils. All work well, all are tasty.) Don't fill up the oil as if you're frying chicken. Just a little bit is good. The dough will absorb it during the cooking process, so you'll need to add more periodically.
Grab a small ball of dough and pat it flat in your hands. (And I do mean flat--just be careful not to create holes.) I make them about the size of my palms, maybe a little larger. Since the bread has only risen once, it will rise again when it's cooked and the piroshke will end up much larger than you think they will. Making it the size of my palm at the start means they're almost as big as my hand when I'm done. Scoop a little bit of the filling out of your pot and into the dough. If you do it right (I rarely do) you can fold the dough around the filling like an envelope. An envelope filled with deliciousness. But the filling can be kind of tricky to work with, so usually I end up making amorphous blobs of bread and filling. If you end up with a hole in the dough, just patch it up with more dough. Two notes: one, keep your drink away from the filling process. I accidentally dumped some cabbage into my tea because I had it right there. Next: fill over a pot, like the pot you cooked the filling in. I kept forgetting and my dog feasted on dropped bits of moose meat. This is why we can't keep her out of the kitchen.
When the skillet and the oil are hot, drop the piroshke in there (gently) and brown on either side, then on the ends. It takes a little bit of time (and be careful not to get the skillet too hot--our electric one does well between 325^-350^) but most of the time you're not actively doing anything. I get the first few started and then make the rest while those are cooking. Sometimes the skillet gets too crowded and I can't add anymore, so it's helpful to either have a movie on or a book handy. (A book that you can get messy. :)
The piroshke is done when it's lightly browned on each side. Allow a few minutes to cool so you don't burn your tongue off, then feast. They're super easy to microwave later on (although, like a Hot Pocket, they will be lava-hot in the middle so eat warily) although they don't freeze as well as you'd hope. That's never mattered to us, since they go so quickly.
One final note: if you have a picky eater, or someone who doesn't like one of the fillings you're making (ahem...Shane...ahem) they're very hard to tell apart once they're done cooking. It helps to try to keep them in separate parts of the pan, but that doesn't always work, because if you're anything like me you'll lose track after a while. So you might just have to tell them to deal with it. Or, if you're super nice, you can offer to eat any that they mistake for a different kind.
Two-three of these make a thoroughly filling meal for an adult.

Monday, February 13, 2012


My seeds arrived! I'm so excited, can you tell? In fact, I already planted a few (basil) in another milk jug pot. When starting seeds, it's good to keep them warm. Some people put them on top of the fridge for that purpose. I think that the milk jug will be easier, though. I placed it in a spot on the table that gets plenty of sunlight, made certain it had enough water, and put the top back over it to get a little greenhouse effect going.
One project today is to start some of my seeds at work. I ripped out my old tomato plants a couple of weeks ago after they stopped producing. So into those pots I'm going to plant two peas and one bean plant (these plants will use different nutrients from the soil--plus, they fix nitrogen into it so the soil will be better for tomatoes or something next year). Of course, I want to get more large pots to plant more things in. And I need more tomato cages. But the Botanical Gardens are going to be taking their plants back in the next week or two so I'll have plenty of space.
The only seeds or starts left that I wanted to get were some strawberries and some sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are like regular potatoes because they don't actually have seeds, you need a little part of the root itself to start them. And I don't really trust the ones from the grocery store. (They're usually treated so that they don't sprout, so it would be hard to grow from them.) Strawberries take a year before they start producing, so it's best to buy small plants rather than seeds. We'll see what my budget says about how many I can get. I'm trying not to go over a total budget of $100 in materials for my garden this year and I still need to buy more dirt for planting. If I can find some large pots to upcycle as tomato planters, that would be awesome. Anyone have great ideas for free/recycled things to use as planters or cages?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

"Poisoning" and Sunday Total

This was pretty much a great weekend. Yesterday morning I went to a friend's cabin for a lady's tea and jewelry swap. Despite only knowing two of the girls beforehand, I had a blast. We were all amazed at how much jewelry we had that we wanted to get rid of. It was only a small sampling of each of our collections, but put it all together and we could have done our own booth at a fair. (And since there were only seven of us, that was especially shocking.) I had even thought when I was first invited, "Oh, I don't really have anything to get rid of...." A quick peek through my jewelry revealed plenty of things I never wear. We went around the table picking one at a time (there were a few hotly contested items) and whatever wasn't chosen at the end was going to be donated or given to the hostess's Little Sister. (You know, from the Big Sister/Little Sister program.)
And yes, I did get a few "new" pieces of jewelry, but they're of a sort that I would want to get anyway sometime. Small-ish silver hoops, a beautiful necklace, some earrings that look like stained glass windows (and reminded me of my honeymoon)....
In the afternoon, I made a new catnip toy for my little guy. He was SO EXCITED. It provides endless entertainment to him and us, because we get to watch him throwing it around the house to chase after. And then he gets stoned, and starts staring at nothing, or chasing nothing (or chasing his tail), or just getting really mellow and letting us pet and hold him more than usual. Sometimes all of this happens within the span of about ten minutes. If you have cats, these toys are really easy to make and can be done with a scrap of yarn: crochet (or knit, I guess, but the small work would probably be difficult) a small tube, about the length of a finger. Grab a funnel and fill it with dried catnip pieces, then crochet the end together. I think I make them in about fifteen minutes, depending on how difficult it is to get the catnip down the tube. Yes it has holes, but this allows the nip to get out. Eventually all the nip is gotten out of them and it's time for a new one. Don't throw away the old one, though! When your cat is good and thoroughly stoned, it'll blow their mind to have a second toy thrown into the mix. :) If you use natural fiber yarn, they can get composted when you're done with them.
We went to J&L's last night to watch movies, but ended up leaving rather quickly. Apparently about two minutes before we got there, L was trying to fix some food for them but had an accident. They have (had) a cutting board that was essentially a leftover piece of the same material that makes up their counters. They also have a completely flat electric stove top. Can you see where I'm going? L placed the cutting board on the stove and turned on the wrong burner. Then she left the kitchen for a moment to take care of something and when she came back it was not burning, but smoking horribly. I'm not sure what the material was (some kind of laminate?) but the stench was beyond belief. And that was after a few minutes of having the windows open and the board itself on the porch. Amazingly, the part that was burned didn't actually burn and melt but turned into powder. So at least they won't have to replace the stove since it was easy enough to clean off. But we needed to evacuate, especially Baby, and give the house a chance to air out. Of course, "airing out" in the winter also has its difficulties because you don't want things to freeze. So we couldn't leave the windows open. We just had to let time do its thing. Even the few minutes we spent in there trying to get ready to leave again gave us all headaches. Shane, who was there longer than I was (he and J stayed behind a few minutes to close up the house while L and I raced Baby out of there) said that his vision was starting to blur before they left. Fantastic.
So it was back to my house. The dog, I'm pleased to report, is freaking out less and less at Baby. I even held Baby on my lap on the floor and let the dog come over and lick her face a little bit. (Mostly, she licked the pacifier.) And actually, Baby seemed to like it. The dog didn't even panic when Baby started to fuss a bit. I'm so proud of my dog. (She's been an angel lately!) Way later than usual, Baby finally fell asleep and we put her on our bed surrounded by blankets and pillows so she wouldn't fall off. (And since we don't have a frame for our bed, it's quite low and she probably wouldn't be hurt even if she had fallen off.) They left around midnight, with me and Shane both reminding them that we have a guest bedroom so if the chemicals were still too much for them, they could come stay at our house for the night. They didn't come back, so I assume all was well. (Although, I'm going to call L in a few minutes to confirm.) Poor lady, she beat herself up all evening about her "attempt to poison us". Shane and I both reminded her that we've done equally stupid things. I had to mark the knobs on our stove to show which ones were front or back (color-coded and written) because I would accidentally turn on the wrong burner and either leave an empty pot on it or something worse. Back when we were still buying industrial meats, I left a styrofoam package of chicken on a hot burner twice. Our kitchen towels have burn marks and holes in them because our old roommate several times left them on a hot burner. I think she was glad to know she wasn't alone in this.
So, our weekly total was: $0. After the glut of spending last weekend we really don't need groceries. The only caveat to that is that it's Valentine's Day this week so we wanted to make an extra special meal for each other. (Valentine's Day is our unofficial marker of how long we've been together, since our second date was on V-Day. Five years this year, and six months married!) I have no idea what Shane's planning to make for dinner, but dessert is mine. I'm making some apricot cookies from a book that L gave me. They're buttery and apricot-y and lemon-y and rich but not too sweet. Shane loves them, but since the ingredients are sort of expensive (here, at least--even bulk apricots are not cheap!) I don't make them that often. And since Tuesday I'm busy (Symphony rehearsal) we're celebrating tomorrow. I want to know what we'll have for dinner....

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Reusing plastic milk jugs

I've been wondering for a while what to do with our plastic milk jugs. It's not economical to buy milk in half-gallon containers (which, by the way, instead of being coated with wax the way they used to be, are now coated in plastic or a petroleum wax-like substance) and there's nowhere around here which does reusable containers. I think that they can go into the recycling on campus, but I'm not sure and in any case I was hoping to find inspiration about what to do with them instead, before they get trashed. I know they can be used as mini-greenhouses for plants, so I saved a few for that purpose. But, to be honest, summer is just so far away still. It seems like a lackluster and unnecessary project right now. Even today, when it's sunny and above zero and spring seems to be calling, I know that summer is still so far away. (We'll probably dip down into the -30s or -40s again at least once between now and the end of March.) I wanted to do something with them now. Have I mentioned before that I'm impatient?
I got inspiration from my one hanging plant. I've had this poor vine for three years now, and not only have I never transplanted it, I've let the soil in the pot slowly leak out the bottom when I water it. It was root-bound, and fading fast. It was the perfect project. Last Friday when I came home, I grabbed two of the milk jugs and cut the tops off at two different points. One was cut open near the top (leaving some of the plastic handle on) and the other one near the bottom. The top of that one will be saved for use as a greenhouse this summer.
For the bigger section, I poked several large holes in the bottom using a screwdriver. Then I poked two holes (up and down) with a large nail, and one in each of the corresponding sides of the smaller portion of milk jug. I used zip ties to attach the two pieces together and voila! One planter and an attached water container, making it suitable for hanging indoors.
The bottoms of the local milk jugs have a bump in the middle of them. To ensure enough room for water to gather, I made sure that the bump was going opposite ways on the two sections. It leaves a little less than an inch of space under the planter for excess water. I still need to be careful not to over-water, but that's always true.
That's all I really needed to do to get it ready to plant in. I put a layer of soil in it, then gently put my vine in and filled in around it with more soil. For the first watering I poured some over the top like usual, but for future waterings the opened portion of the handle on the side will make a wonderful spout so that the water goes directly to the roots.
To hang it up, I found a...well, a cord thing which I bought a while ago intending to use for hanging plants but could never find the proper pot to put in it. Nothing worked with it and it's just been sitting there for over a year. But the hooks on it made it perfect for hanging this container. I poked a few more holes in the top of the container for the hooks to go through (not too high, so the weight of it all pulls the hooks through the plastic, but not so low that I'd have a hard time actually getting the hooks through it) and that was really it. Very simple, and now I can train the vines to go up the cord rather than just hanging down in front of my other plants. If I hadn't already had the cord on hand, I would probably have used an old wire hanger. The other thing I've thought of doing (and will probably try next) is to crochet a little basket-type thing out of old plastic bags to hang the planter in. I'm a little worried about how sturdy that would be, though. When I try it, I'll let you know.
I must say, even Shane was impressed with me. I think he thought that me saving the milk jugs was another silly project that I'd never get around to actually using. Ha! I showed him.
I also want to get more hooks. There are some holes in the ceiling where it's obvious that a previous tenant used to have hooks for hanging plants so I don't need to worry about damaging the apartment. This will seriously help me fit more plants into our tiny space and I'm wondering what to plant next in our little indoor garden. I'm thinking two planters of assorted herbs, and maybe one of lettuce. Two of lettuce? It would be so nice to have fresh, homegrown lettuce before midsummer.
I asked my boss about the potential of hanging some at work (we have so much space which would be perfect for them!--lots of light, no other uses for that space, etc.) but because of the liability issues (what if they fell on someone?) I can't do it. I might try to sneak one or two in at the windows, though.
For summer, I'm going to substantially increase the amount of gardening space I have by making more of these planters and hanging them up under the eaves around the garage. I'm thinking strawberries would be wonderful and easy. :)
Now I'm itching to get my hands on more milk jugs! We go through about a gallon of milk per week, a little bit less if I don't need to make yogurt. So it's not like I have a bunch waiting to be "butchered" into planters. I've asked a friend who works at a local coffee shop to save a few milk jugs for me, since they go through about 30 per day. If I get too many for using as hanging baskets, I can always save some to start plants in, or just to use as regular pots around the house.
*It's actually been over a week since I did this project, but I wanted to add the pictures and because of our technical difficulties I had to wait. This plant already looks super healthy and happy with its new home.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Independence Days

So, what did I do this week to make my life a little more independent and sustainable? Not too much, but enough.
I ordered my seeds last weekend, and they should be here soon. Rather than the $100 I thought it would cost, it was only $55 (with shipping). Since there are way more seeds than I could ever plant here, I might have a few friends buy some from me. (For about $5.) My friend Hannah reminded me that it's not too early to start seeds for indoor growing, so I got some of my pots ready to plant and am on the lookout for more. The only planting I did this week was just replanting a vine I have (more about that tomorrow.) Since I used only things we already had in the house (and re-purposed a couple of things) I'm feeling pretty good about that one and I'm excited to share.
Of course, I didn't preserve anything, but we did make decent headway into the "eat the food" category. The dog spent a lot of time the other night showing me her big sad eyes until I fed her, because she knew we'd had halibut that night and she wanted some. I gave in. I made zucchini pancakes to use up some more of our saved squash, and we're almost out of our frozen blueberries. (No!!!!) Most of our upcoming meals (except maybe Valentine's Day--because I still don't know what Shane wants to make) are planned around things that we've already got, so we don't waste any of it.
I'm adding my own category here: health. Because any life in which you don't take care of yourself is not sustainable. Further, the medicines that we use are both incredibly resource intensive and involve a lot of transportation and waste. So what have I done to keep myself healthy? I walked for at least an hour and fifteen minutes every weekday. I exercised (not counting my walking) for forty minutes on four out of the last seven days. I started each day with a healthy breakfast (either a smoothie or a whole wheat scone) and I made sure to eat plenty of vegetables, fish, and nuts/seeds. I know I did all of this because I'm involved in a work health program that forces me to track my exercise and eating. :)
What have you done this week to make your life better?

Technical difficulties

Oh boy. When it rains, it pours. Am I right? Quite a while ago (like, before Christmas) the power supply in Shane's computer exploded. (And I mean that in the literal sense. Thankfully, it was small. I slept right through it.) Then, when he was cleaning out my computer, he broke my processor by accident. Not a big deal, in the grand scheme of things. Since his computer was already broken he merely traded out his working part for my non-working part. He has a laptop, which was his graduation gift from his parents. I know, I know, three computers for our household of two! But it has been nice to have the laptop around for things like going on our honeymoon and now, for use when the other computer is dead.
Well, last week the power supply for the laptop died. Since it's sort of a specialty laptop (marketed to gamers, like Shane) it's not like he could just go to the store and get a new power supply. It's thankfully still under warranty, so he sent it back to be refurbished. And our house was down to only one working computer.
On Wednesday, I got a call from Shane in the afternoon. "Your computer isn't starting up. I think something is wrong with your operating system and I'm going to have to do a complete re-install. You don't have anything important on that drive, do you?" Naturally I didn't think, "Yes! All of my photos, all of my important documents..." I said, "No, I don't think so." *Facepalm*
What Shane thinks happened is that the night before, when he was going to bed, it was taking forever to shut itself off and in a fit of impatience he did a hard shutdown via the power strip. What he failed to realize at the time was that it was taking so long to shut down because it was installing updates. He killed it.
So for a while, we went from three working computers to none. Thankfully, Shane was able to get mine up and running again. And our most important photos (like the ones from our honeymoon) were still on the camera. Others I can get from family and friends, or even from Facebook. Most of my important documents have backups (thanks, Dad!) so it's not a complete loss. Just a lot of time that I'm going to need to spend, putting things back in order.
Both of our birthdays are coming up, and we've agreed that it's sort of silly to get presents for each other. "Here, look what our money got you!" or Shane's comment, "You worked really hard, dear, so I spent some of that money you earned." I think our gifts to each other will be more like "You have my permission to go buy a couple of books" or "You have my permission to go ahead and buy new parts for your computer". It's the stuff of jewelry commercials and romance novels, right?
It has been interesting, though, to see how much we rely on our computers. I like to think that I spend less than the average amount of screen time (Shane makes up for it with his massive amounts of screen time, thanks to playing video games) but I felt rather bereft when we didn't have any computers to entertain us. Normally if Shane was doing something like installing an operating system (a long and boring process) we would have turned on a movie on someone else's computer. But of course, we couldn't do that. I couldn't do my normal workout because the video is played on my computer. So we read our books and it was very quiet in the house. I took the dog for a walk to get some exercise, but it's warm enough that I've been doing that in addition to my workout lately and it wasn't a replacement. (Little girl got two walks yesterday because I took her to meet Shane when he was walking home from work, then I took her out again after my workout. She even found some bread in the road that someone had spilled and ate it before I could stop her. It was a good evening to be a dog.)
Whatever computer parts we have to get rid of will be sent to an e-waste recycler. I know that most of the time they just ship the stuff to places like China, because they have lax environmental laws. So I will do my best to find a responsible recycling route. It's not the best option, or even really a good option. I'll need to figure out more what the best and most responsible, sustainable, option is.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

What you're not supposed to say...or think

I'm a feminist, and proud to claim that title. In fact most of us are feminists, even men. The word has been co-opted by people who want to give it a bad reputation for their own (usually economic) gain. Those are the people who make you visualize some woman claiming that women are superior to men in every way. This is not feminism. Feminism is merely the belief (I would say rather, knowledge) that men and women are equal. Oh, I concede that we have differences. Unless I try really hard to bulk up, I will probably never be as strong as most men. On the flip side, they will never get to feel a child growing inside of them, kicking and squirming and squishing their bladder. We're not equal in the sense that "I must be the same as you to be equal". But men are no smarter than me (except on an individual basis), and no morally better or worse than me. They don't deserve more freedoms and rights than me simply because they have a penis and I have, instead, a vagina.
The dirty little secret that I hold, which I'm not supposed to think or feel or that my greatest dream is actually to be a homemaker. A housewife. A stay-at-home mom. Except that I hate these titles. They imply that a woman who doesn't work outside the home doesn't really work. I think that the work a woman (or a man) who is a homemaker does is some of the hardest and most valuable work that there is. Raising a family, feeding them well, keeping accounts and family budgets, doing all of the shopping, and often mending clothes, gardening, and even keeping is this not valuable to a family? Though I would never want to go back to the days when, in school, girls learned about homemaking and boys took shop, there is a reason the class was called "home economics". The work done at home is severely undervalued in our society. By some estimates, the informal economy makes up 75% of the world economy. It's hidden, though, because it's hard to measure and include it in the GDP.
Sharon Astyk (yes, her again) has a wonderful article in which she argues that the version of feminism that came to dominate our thoughts is the one which was framed to be the most profitable for corporations. Instead of spending time and energy on the home economy, women were now told that to be productive, to be good little feminists, means to Produce and be Productive in Society. Which means getting out of the home, getting a job for a corporation. (As Astyk put it, trading the "slavery and drudgery" of the home for the slavery and drudgery of someone else, who will now be timing your bathroom breaks.) I think that this is an excellent point. Feminism wasn't an idea spurred, necessarily, by the desire to get jobs outside of the home. What was it then? It was the desire to not be looked down upon as the "weaker sex", to want the acknowledgement that we are people too, with valuable thoughts, ideas, and experiences. It was born out of the desire for basic protections for women: protection against predators (rapists and sexual harassers), protection from abusive husbands, protection over our own bodies (the right to say "no", the right to birth control and abortion), the right to equal work from our spouses and partners. More economic opportunity. Not just "money", but the right to own property and to not be dependent on male family members to make decisions for us. That is what feminism is about, not whether we work outside the home or not. Freedom is the underlying principle, and by claiming that the only way we can be "free" is to work outside the home, we're undermining our own cause.
Yes, I think it's a tragedy how few women are CEOs of major corporations, or how few progress from middle management at all. I think it's reprehensible that no matter what job I hold, I will only earn approximately 75% of what a similarly qualified man would make for the same work. I think it's utterly stupid that we even have to have the term "mommy track", and that women are the ones forced to choose between advancing their careers and their families, and that most women don't have paid maternity leave (if they do have it at all). (On the flip side, I also think it's horrible that men don't get paternity leave. They might not be the ones actually carrying the children, but having kids is still a big deal for men and I think that in this regard our society is stuck in the old model of the man as provider. Why would the big strong man need to take any time off just for a kid? That's women's work.)
If we have daughters, I would like to see them one day have even more opportunity in terms of work than I do. I hope that they will grow up in a world where it's actually written into the U.S. Constitution that women have as many rights as men and minorities. (It's not currently in there. Write your legislators and support the Equal Rights Amendment!) But I think that freedom of choice is the most important thing they can have. The freedom to not be looked down upon if they choose to stay at home "rather than work" and the freedom to make the best decision for them and their families. I just don't see that for women right now, and sadly a lot of the judgment comes from other women. Instead of being the strongest force mankind (yep, I meant that word in the patriarchal sense) has ever seen, we've allowed ourselves to be divided into camps. "I'm a good mom because I stay at home/earn money for my family. I'm a better woman because I work. I'm better because I cloth diaper/never spank my kids/discipline them strictly/take them to Disneyland every year." We measure ourselves against each other and rather than supporting each other, or making allowances for differences of beliefs, morals, situation, and temperament, we insist on judging each other harshly. That needs to stop.
So why do I want to be a homemaker? Well, lots of reasons. For one thing, I love babies and children and when we have them, I'd want to be home with them. (This is absolutely not a judgment on working mothers. My own worked almost my entire childhood--and if you count getting a master's degree as work, the whole time I was growing up--and some mothers prefer to work, enjoying the escape from Babyland every day.) The most fun job I've ever had was when I was sort of nannying for four different families. (The moms were all stay-at-home, so they just needed a few hours of help for different reasons. One mom runs marathons and wanted time to exercise. One mom had a five year old and infant twins, and lots of chaos. Stuff like that.) Until that point, I'd always thought that my goal for being a Grownup was getting a job and making money. I realized that the "making money" part wasn't so important to me, and now that I'm at a Real Job I realize how depressing it is when you have memories of playing the days away instead. And no, that job wasn't easy. I was a supplement to those parents so I disciplined and ran them to activities and went grocery shopping and cleaned. But my biggest memories are of playing with and reading to the kids. I want to have those same kinds of memories about my own kids.
The other main reason is because I think that in the future, I can have as big an economic impact on our little family at home as I currently have at work. I have dreams of gardens that produce almost all of our vegetables. Of keeping bees, raising chickens and goats. These are time-consuming things that are not easy to do when both partners work full time. There are already plenty of things that I want to do, but which I find I don't have the time for or the energy for. ("I could go pull those weeds...but it's a weeknight and I don't want to do anything more taxing than read a book and snuggle my pets.") I want to knit socks (I started some, but only one is half-finished) and sweaters and learn to quilt and sew. I really, truly enjoy all of the home economics stuff. I love cooking elaborate meals, baking, and figuring out ways to reduce our grocery bills or to make something stretch just a little bit farther.
Shane is not like me. He sits home all day playing video games, bored to tears by unemployment. Where I see opportunity, he just sees that he's not contributing economically. Yes, he's taken on extra chores to compensate. But where I would throw myself into all sorts of home projects, he withers and is less and less inclined to make work for himself. (This is, apparently, quite common when comparing women's unemployment to men's. Also, it worries me because of impacts to his long-term health and life expectancy.) This role reversal in what we'd like to do is difficult. The one who's more suited to staying home has to work, and the one anxious to work has to stay home. It's hard at times to bite my tongue, to not criticize or suggest new projects for him. (He complimented me the other day--undeservedly, I feel--for not criticizing him while he's unemployed. If he only knew how many times I wanted to bash him over the head and yell, "Do something besides playing your f-ing video games all day!!!") It's also hard not to try to take over all of the home stuff, too, and completely wear myself out. Shane doesn't shop at all the way I do. If he goes when he's hungry, he buys things like Pizza Rolls. He has never yet remembered the reusable bags, even when I've sent him a reminder text. (Is he really that oblivious, or is it just because he doesn't care?) He will occasionally get the organic option, but usually he doesn't bother. And I bite my tongue again. I remind myself that staying home is not something he wants to do so it's hard enough. I remind myself that just because I feel that I've figured out the perfect way to do things doesn't mean that he thinks they're perfect. Nor does it mean that he's any more inclined to take on my projects.
It's very hard to see the other person in the role that we want to take on. But for now, we don't really have a choice in the matter. This is one case where hard work and persistence really haven't paid off, and might not for a long time. We'll just have to keep on keeping on, and look forward to a day when things will be different.