Monday, November 19, 2012

Making walking in the cold fun

We've been eating soup for days. Seriously, days. Shane made salmon chowder last Thursday night and we've been eating it ever since. There was still a decent amount yesterday and we knew that it would either need to be eaten, frozen, or dumped. Since I find it unconscionable to waste food, and we were all sick of eating it, freezing it and making something else was what we went with. But what did we all want to eat before we leave on Wednesday? If we made one meal there was a chance we wouldn't have enough to last, and if we made two meals we'd most likely be leaving leftovers to go bad while we're all gone for the holiday. (Shane and I are going to visit my in-laws, my brother is going to a friend's house for a few days.) So we decided that making sandwiches would be the best way to go. Which meant going to the store for sandwich makings. (And, as it turns out, eggnog.)
The problem was, our truck still isn't running. We've tried getting various friends to come look at it, but between the cold temps and the busy-ness surrounding the holiday it hasn't happened. We tried calling our friend (and next-door neighbor) to see if we could borrow her car but no such luck. So, walking it was.
Shane hates walking places. We would have biked, but his tire died over the summer and while I bought a new tire for him, I forgot to get a new tube for it. So we only had one bike and neither of us was going to volunteer to be the solo adventurer. With the temp at 0F (with a windchill making it "feel like" -20F) it was safest to go in a pair anyway. So we walked.
It could have been so miserable. However, Shane managed to make the trip fun for both of us by acting as if we were arctic explorers. In between talking about other things, he'd randomly intersperse comments as if he was doing the voiceover for someone's journal entries. I caught on and we made ourselves giggle almost the whole way. Considering that it was a 2 hour trip, that's not bad. Here are a few of the funniest "journal entries".

Shane: "Journal Entry #1. Status report, morale is low. I hate walking."

Shane: "Journal Entry #2. My partner won't stop cackling and laughing at me. Insensitive bastard."

After a few minutes of silence...
Shane (in an NPR-announcer voice): "And now, the tasteful sideboob hour."
Me: "WTF? Journal entry #5. My partner seems to have gone insane. I fear for our expedition. It seems less and less likely that we will both make it safely to the end of our journey."

On the walk home....
Shane: "Status report, morale is even lower. I still fucking hate walking."
Me: "Waaaah! I'm Shane and I can't handle a little bit of hard work! Waaah!"
Shane: "Journal entry #8. My partner went missing in the night. An expedition was sent out but were forced to turn back. The outlook is grim."
Then he pushed me into a snowbank.

Just before I fell asleep last night I heard this...
Shane: "Journal entry #12. Readjusting to my normal life once again is proving difficult. Perhaps the expedition was unwise, as I now seem unfit for the real world...."

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Fairbanks is dry. Very, very dry. As in, I often come home with two or three new paper cuts just because my hands are so dry that simply handling paper cuts my skin. No matter how much lotion I put on my skin, it's never enough. And because it's so dry, hand lotion is a popular gift to give a woman when you don't know what else to get her. Most of this lotion is super scented, which I'm not a huge fan of. It tends to be more of a way to perfume oneself, rather than to actually moisturize your skin.
I'm pretty picky about my lotion. I don't have that many brands which I really like, and even fewer that I'll actually remember to use. And yet, I found myself with about 9 large bottles of lotion, and 8 small bottles, all of which I probably wasn't going to get around to using, plus a small bottle of scented anti-bacterial hand gel of which I have no clue about the origins. Since I've been slowly trying to de-clutter our apartment, I really wanted to get rid of all of these but I felt bad throwing them out.
I got the genius idea a few weeks ago of taking them to work and putting them in the bathrooms. Since I have so many bottles it would be easy enough to put a few of them in the bathroom, wait until they were used up or taken, and then deliver a few more bottles. It's working. I brought in the last of the lotions today because the rest were all gone. My coworker knew what I was doing and told me a few weeks ago that she's noticed one of the bathrooms smells much nicer since I put the lotion in there, and I've often been able to tell from lingering scent that the bottles were actually being used. Then people started taking them, which I also don't mind. I'm glad that something I didn't enjoy and wasn't going to use is helpful to other people. I brought in the last of the lotion today, though, so once these are gone perhaps other people will be inspired to bring in lotion they can't use or don't want.
A few weeks ago I was washing my hands and another woman, at the sink next to me, mentioned something about how dry it was that day. She added, "Thank goodness they've started putting lotion in the bathrooms." I just smiled and nodded without mentioning that I was the lotion fairy.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Household inequality and adjustment

There are all kinds of inequality within a household. It's well documented that women do more housework, childcare, etc. One thing that's gotten a lot of press recently is that women are now starting to out-earn men, and all the stress that's causing.
Now that Shane's home, we're having to deal with inequality of our own sort. First of all, there are chores. Out of three adults, I am the only one with a job currently. The Boy not having a job is a point of contention and irritation in our household, so I won't go into that topic. However, he does have a "job" in the form of school and homework. Shane currently has neither, though he is taking a short go-at-your-own-pace course online for something he wants to learn. So, how do we divide the chores now? What factors do we take into account when deciding what counts, what counts *more*? The only thing we seem to have resolved is the issue of the dishes, with the Boy doing twice as many loads (Shane - Boy - me - Boy - Shane....) since we do more of the cooking. It's a given that I will still be doing all of the laundry (but just for me and Shane, the Boy does his own) because Shane doesn't have the inclination and if left up to him laundry would be done twice a year.
For the others, though? I got into the habit of trying to make the house clean before Shane got home so that he didn't have to deal with messes which clearly weren't made by him. When he was home he'd take care of a couple of chores (cleaning the litter box, doing dishes) so that I'd get a small break from them. Now, when I'm the one out of the house so much more, we'll probably have to reverse that. I think it will be more difficult on Shane than it was on me, actually. He has more exacting standards of cleanliness, but I'm the one more likely to actually do the cleaning. I think that he allows his standards to get in the way of actually doing something because it seems like such a monumental task.
As a small matter, we have the issue of Christmas. I told Shane that I didn't want a present for Christmas because I'm already getting what I want. He still hasn't told me if he wants a Christmas present, however, in part because he said that if he asks for one he'll feel like "a selfish douchebag". I did a very poor job last night of re-explaining that I'm already getting what I want (an incredibly extravagant trip to see my family over the holidays). It doesn't seem to make him feel any better, though, so this is a question we'll have to keep exploring. I know I need to ask questions like, what would he want from me for Christmas? Also, to reassure him that asking for a Christmas gift doesn't mean I'll think of him as selfish. We both stopped buying anything for a while beyond basic necessities, including not replacing things which were worn out. I indulged a little bit over the summer and bought myself a few things I'd been putting off for a while (and obviously still passed the test of, "Will this be useful and fill a need in my life?") but Shane, being gone so much, didn't have that same opportunity that I did. If there are things he's held back from buying but wants or needs, I want him to let me know.
Perhaps the biggest current inequality in our household is just this: jobs. Shane's ego is still (in my opinion) far too closely tied with his employment situation. He feels like he's not contributing anything to "us" if he's not employed. I was hoping that having such a good job over the summer would mitigate some of this but it didn't, and am I a terrible person if I admit a little weariness in having to frequently prop up his sense of self every time he's unemployed? It's been less than a week and I already want to snap and tell him to stop throwing himself a fucking pity party all the time. Instead, I keep reminding him that I'm glad he's home, that there are lots of things he missed out on over the summer because of his employment (like having any kind of a social life), that there are projects around the house I need his help with, that there are things he wanted to learn and do which he now has time for. With just a hint of irritation I even pointed out to him that despite the short duration of his job (May-early November) we managed to save more than my yearly salary, without adding, "so fuck off, whiner" at the end of it. Makes for a good discussion when I can rein in my irritation that way. We'll see if it holds up.
What we're both trying to do is to keep Shane occupied while he transitions from being gone nearly all the time to being home all the time. It's a big transition, and I'm having my own problems with it. Like, I got used to sleeping alone and pretty much being autonomous (except in financial matters). Now I have someone else to answer to (like if the kitchen isn't clean, or on the matter of, "What movie did you want to watch?") and I've been waking up during the night because having him around disturbs my sleep. (Might be part of why I've been so irritated...just a little.) So while I'm happy to have him home, it's more of a mixed bag than I expected. I imagine he's feeling the same way. Coming up with projects and plans--things to do together and things for Shane to do during the day while I'm gone--is our way of adjusting.
I'm also trying to focus on the good things. It is nice to have him home, and I don't want to sound like I'm just complaining. He makes me laugh so hard my stomach hurts, it's lovely to have someone to talk to, and even enjoying the funny things the pets do is better now because I get to share it with him rather than describing it over Skype. So the transition will come along, it's just the unexpectedness of the adjustment period that caught us both by surprise.
Any advice?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Changing things up - New grocery habits

First of all, Shane got home way earlier than expected. When I talked to him Thursday he said he'd be home by Tuesday evening. By Friday, he was saying he'd be home Saturday evening. And then he was home by about 3:00 on Saturday. It's lovely to have him home and know that he's going to stay home for a while. Our dog still thinks he's leaving soon so she's alternately all over him for affection and pouting. The cat, well, he's still just pissed that he's not allowed total freedom yet. (Five more days!)
So, I once again have access to a vehicle for shopping. Kinda. I got used to looking around the house first for ingredients, and then as a last resort going to the grocery store. So I wanted to continue that. Shane seconded that because the truck hasn't been running well for a while and the problems seem to be getting a bit worse. If it's idling, there's a strong possibility that it will idle too low and stall. Sometimes it has a hard time starting up after that, which sucks when you're at an intersection and people behind you are honking. Just as bad, there's a knocking in the engine, though only really when we use one of the gas tanks. ?? I know nothing about cars, so I'm not sure what any of this could mean, other than we should try to drive as little as possible. I'm cool with that.
So, I'd planned things so that we would just make it until Shane came home. That was planning for only two people, however, and not three. So almost as soon as Shane got home, while he was still unpacking, we all started brainstorming recipes we wanted to eat soon. The guys focused mostly on "what sounds good" whereas I focused a lot on "what do we already have that should be used?" type foods. (Don't worry, they're yummy too. I'm just not going to depend on craving a particular food on any given day.) Then I made a shopping list for everything we need. It was huge, since we came up with approximately three weeks' worth of dinners/lunches, and I also wanted to stock up on a month's worth of dry goods.
I don't want food to spoil, however, so I've prioritized eating the fresher foods in the first week and moving on from there. Anything involving lettuce is getting eaten this week, with the things involving bell peppers following close behind. (A loose meal plan is: sandwiches, taco casserole, pasta primavera, fajitas.) Meals involving root vegetables and frozen veggies are next. (Fried rice, salmon chowder, "Lazy Sunday Casserole", squash and spinach stuffed manicotti, because I couldn't for the life of me find giant pasta shells.) Lastly are the things which utilize dry goods, frozen goods, and (home) canned goods. (Chili and cornbread, spaghetti, salmon patties.) We might finish it all with pizza, if we have ingredients for it. But we'll see. After all, Thanksgiving is coming up, and our trip to see my in-laws!
A lot of these things utilize the dry goods I got. I found a recipe for refried beans which I'll use in the taco casserole. I'm also planning to cook up (in the slow cooker) a big batch of the black beans I got. Most of them will be used in the chili, but some can be frozen for future use. Maybe in this "Southwestern 2-bean chicken" recipe? (Don't ask me why Tex-Mex is so popular in our house right now, I don't know.)
Also, many of these things are using goods we already have around the house. I didn't buy much meat because most of it is stuff we already have in the freezer: ground moose, salmon, a few sausages, and a little bit of chicken.
Of course, I don't just plan dinners. The Boy buys his own breakfast stuff, and Shane doesn't really eat breakfast, but I do. And as good as it's been for me to eat oatmeal so much recently, it's nice to get some variety. I've found a recipe for overnight oatmeal, I got some good things to add into smoothies (like flax seeds), and over the weekend I made these breakfast cookies. (Delicious, and I'm impressed that I found a banana in our freezer.) If I run out of all that and still don't want to eat just oatmeal, I have the ingredients to make knock-off Lara Bars and peanut butter granola.
These aren't even all of the meals I could make this month using what we have on hand. After all, there are only two salmon meals on the docket. We could do a moose roast. I had a vegetarian red curry I was planning on making before Shane got home. (He's not a fan of curry, or of vegetarian cooking.) We have moose steaks which could be cooked up with some potato or sweet potato fries and a veggie on the side. I have three pumpkins but am only planning to use one of them this month (in the manicotti), so I could come up with something else for those. In the past, I wouldn't have thought about these things because I would have been far more concerned with questions of what we want to eat rather than what we have to eat. Shopping htis way will force me to be far more creative.
We're definitely still going to need to get some groceries between now and the end of the month. I wish we didn't have to, but we will. The way we've been eating apples I'm sure we'll need more of them, as well as some dairy (we've been milk-drinking fiends) and probably some more chicken. However, I think this is a far more efficient way of meal planning than the "week-by-week" method I had going before. We'd either plan not enough, or too much, we'd run out of ingredients and thus have to go to the store, or we'd have too much and some of it would go bad. This way I can be assured of very little waste.
Less food waste also means less money wasted. I'll have to wait until we get to the end of the month, but I'm almost certain that shopping this way will save us some money. The big trip cost a little under $175, and unfortunately we already had to go to the grocery store again. (Hey, I'm new to this!) I forgot the bell peppers and didn't realize that we were out of booze. I'm not much of a drinker so that didn't occur to me. Shane's happy that he can drink something again (camp was dry--he'd have been fired if he was caught with alcohol) so he wanted something to sip on in the evening.
I've budgeted $400 for the month for groceries. I know, to frugal livers in other places this will seem extravagant, especially considering how much food we routinely keep in the house. However, this is Alaska and I'm feeding 3 adults, a small dog, and a large housecat on this budget. (Yep, pet food is included in that amount I spent--about a month's worth of canned pet food.) This will also be the first month I've tried it this way, and the first month we'll all be home. So we'll see how tight the budget ends up being.
If you're curious, I've started using a budgeting app called EEBA on my iPod. It's free and it's supposed to be like the envelope budgeting system. That is, you "give" yourself a certain amount of money and when it's gone you're not supposed to spend anymore for the time frame you've set. I just find it handy for keeping track of things. You can set the categories you're budgeting for (I find a "rent" category stupid to do because it's the same amount every month and I know I'm going to pay it, but an "entertainment" budget to keep track of what we spend out with friends or on our hobbies is quite handy) so it's really customizable. I wanted to try the Mint app (also free) but you have to attach at least your bank account to that and Shane didn't like the idea. (For those who are interested, I researched it and there haven't been any security concerns. I even talked to my dad, who works in a security field, and he thought it seemed no more dangerous than online banking.) I think Mint is better for a comprehensive look at your personal finances (check out the Mr. Money Mustache review) and EEBA is decent enough for an actual dollar amount to strive for. You have to type it in every time, and it gives annoying little hints (I've set the time frame for one month but it calculates things as if I'm going to spend a certain amount every day; according to it, I'm behind by half a month in my spending and it's giving me a little frowny face) but it's nice to have it set in my head when I go shopping, something I can look at to help me stick to the amount I want to spend.

Friday, November 2, 2012

'Tis the Season

You're probably going to think I'm sick, and I'm sure I've confessed this before, but now that Halloween is over I've busted out the Christmas tunes. Yep, I'm one of those people. Don't worry, I haven't afflicted anyone else with this mild holiday addiction. I haven't even told Shane, since no one else knows what I'm listening to with my headphones on.
I know that many people will get mad and say that listening to Christmas music so early in the season is atrocious and part of the commercializing of Christmas. However, to me it's completely the opposite. First of all, many "Christmas" songs don't say word one about Christmas, or any other holiday. "Winter Wonderland"? "Jingle Bells"? "Baby, it's Cold Outside"? Nothing about Christmas in any of those. They should more properly be termed winter songs. That's not why I listen to them, of course, but it's a small defense.
Getting to the heart of this for me, Christmas music serves to remind me of just what's so special about Christmas, and to get me excited for all of the wonderful things to come. I don't know about you, but with only a few exceptions I don't really remember the presents I got for Christmases past. Mostly what I remember are the things like cookie baking, watching movies and drinking hot chocolate with my family, and all being together. There's an 11 year age spread in my family, with my oldest brother being six years older than me. Think about it: he turned 18 when I was only 12, and long before he moved out he spent a majority of his time elsewhere. I loved Christmas for bringing him home for a bit, for a chance to hang out with all of my siblings. My other older brother left when I was 14 and the chance to get together at the holidays became that much more important to me. (I can only imagine what it was like for my little brother, 5 years younger than I am.) Board games, card games, puzzles, lots of family dinners, those are the things I love about Christmas and they're the memories that come flooding back when I listen to Christmas music.
Newer happy memories too. Two years ago my brother and I spent an evening making Christmas cookies for my work's cookie giveaway during finals. I didn't realize that when I'd written a particular recipe down I doubled it. (Why would you ever make less than a double batch of those cookies?!) So we doubled it, not realizing, and it turned into a hilarious scramble when we realized our mistake. Just the wet ingredients filled my largest mixing bowl so we had to find another bowl to put some of it in and try to get the dry ingredients for both bowls correct. I wrote a note on the recipe: "THIS IS ALREADY DOUBLED! BEFORE YOU DOUBLE IT, REMEMBER CHRISTMAS 2010!!" It makes me laugh every time, and every time the Boy and I talk about making cookies together one of us will start giggling about that.
This year we have lots to look forward to. It turns out that Shane will be home for Thanksgiving, so we'll get to go to Soldotna as we usually do to visit parents, grandparents, cousins, not to mention my brother-in-law and his girlfriend. (Who are moving out of state soon!) With the very recent passing of one of Shane's elderly relatives, it seems more important than ever to spend as much time with family as possible. After all, they won't be here forever.
After that, we'll only be home for a few weeks before we leave for Maine! My family is having a reunion at the family home there and I couldn't be more excited. Well, all right. I guess if my oldest brother and his wife were able to make it, I could be. (Poor Johanna has Christmas Day off from work and that's it.) But I get to see aunts, uncles, and cousins who are normally spread out over the country. Many of my cousins weren't able to come to our wedding so it's been years since I saw them anywhere other than Facebook. There's a new addition to the family, who will be 8 months old when we get to see him. And another cousin is pregnant, so we'll get to celebrate that with her. The little girl who was the youngest family member last time we did this is five now, a big kindergartener.
I'm looking forward to all the ways we'll reconnect with each other. We'll go for walks in the snow (for us it will be relative warmth; for many people in my family, a novelty, since they live in warmer climes), cook grand meals together, play games, watch movies, and catch up on all the news of each other's lives. I'm so excited and happy that, honestly, I could just cry.
As if all of that wasn't enough to be happy about, on our way home we're stopping in Seattle for a week. We'll spend New Year's with my friends there, have more time with my parents and two of my brothers, and my oldest brother said last night that he'd talk to his wife and see if there's any way they can make it up there for a few days. Squeeeee!!! I haven't been to Seattle in about two years and it's definitely far too long. I have lots of people there whom I love and I miss them. They've made so many life changes that I've missed out on. Some have gotten married, bought houses, had kids, and existing children have done far too much growing up. I can't wait to see everyone.
So, the one thing I haven't mentioned in all of this is gifts. Despite what people say about returning to the spirit of Christmas, making it a simpler Christmas, etc., and despite the messages we get every year from Christmas movies, people still make a big deal about gift giving at Christmas. To some extent, this isn't bad. It's a time when we get to show our friends and family our appreciation of them. And who doesn't like getting something fantastic? "OMG, I've wanted to read this book for so long!" "Thanks, Mom, I can never have enough wool socks." So I'm not completely anti-gift-giving. But definitely, it's generally over the top.
For me and Shane, like so many others we're once again dealing with unemployment. (Forgive my silence the last couple of weeks--this was a hard secret to keep and I've known since mid-September! He wanted to be the one to tell friends and family, however.) This is his last shift, since the higher ups at his company decided that it would be more worth it to let everyone go for the winter than it would be to keep the camp open when not as much work would be getting done more inefficiently because of the weather and conditions. It's not terrible--we saved a lot of money this summer, and Shane gets a fairly generous severance package, plus he's got a standing job offer when the camp reopens next year with an actual signing bonus if he works for them again--but it's still back to just my income. Our trip is not cheap. I told my oldest brother the amount just for our plane tickets over the phone last night and I swear I heard his jaw drop. (I'll just say here that it nearly cost us the soul of our firstborn child, when we have one. People from Alaska will know.) So while we'll still give gifts to our families, I told Shane that not only am I totally cool with him not getting me a gift, but that I'll actually be mad if he does. I said flat-out that our trip is really the only thing I *need* for Christmas. The only things I want don't come wrapped up under the tree. This led into a very personal discussion about how we can best use our money in the future for the things which truly do matter to us.
Shane's parents will certainly, as usual, go overboard for Christmas. So I asked Shane's mom for one of the few things that I really want. Shane has told me repeatedly that she's so excited to finally have a girl to shop for that I don't feel bad about this.
I will be informing my family that they don't need to spend gobs of money on us. The travel itself, or the shipping to send even small things, is fairly expensive. I don't want anyone to feel pressured to spend more than they can really afford, or even if they can afford it to feel like they need to spend lots of money to show they care.
For the extended family, when we've done these Christmas get-togethers in the past we've done a white elephant gift exchange among the adults. I've got several homemade things which I'm planning to pull together into a gift, things which I know pretty much everyone in my family would appreciate and enjoy. Many of us bring regional things--really good chili powder from my Texas relatives is always appreciated, and there are some special canned peppers from a local Seattle company which my mom talked about buying a case of to distribute at Christmas. (YES!) It will be fun and low-key and perfect.
Other than seeing my relatives, one of the things I'm looking forward to the most is introducing Shane to the family home. It was built by one of my ancestors about 175 years ago and it has all kinds of stuff in it. My great-grandmother's first grownup party dress, military uniforms dating back to WWI, and so many incredible things. The oldest book we've found was printed in the 1750s, before the U.S. was even an independent country. How incredible is that? There's a creepy room in the cellar which was dubbed the Alfred Hitchcock room (if you saw it, you'd know why), and the memories of wonderful childhood memories. I just can't wait for Shane to see it all. Back to my original theme, listening to Christmas music is making me happy right now with the anticipation of all of this. Now isn't that a decent reason to listen to it?