Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Random NJ observations

I’ve found three diners within ¾ mile of each other—not cool retro diners but just plain ol diners. I’ve eaten at two of them already.

People in diners talk to mere acquaintances about the most personal things. Last night I heard all about someone’s colon cancer (in remission), someone else’s son (couldn’t tell if the son was doing well or in trouble) and speculation about hunting season.

Diner food may be plain but I haven’t left hungry. Tonight I couldn’t come close to finishing it all. I had planned on having dessert (chocolate lover’s cake; the word choice made me giggle just a bit) but there’s no room in my tummy.

The Jersey accent is very different from Boston (which I already knew). It’s also different from the Philadelphia accent. Even so, I’ll probably bring some of it home with me.

Also my allergies are kicking my booty. I think it’s the ragweed but it might also be mold since where I’m training is both old and very poorly ventilated. They’ve gotten inspection reports citing the air quality as an issue. I believe it.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Heading to NJ

And apparently Wally wants to go too:

Eddie got frustrated because he couldn't fit in there too, so he picked on Chloe:

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A never before seen event

Yesterday, Kent said that he had both Chloe and Eddie on his lap at one time; you have to understand that Chloe doesn't kitty pile with the boys, ever. She may end up having one sleep near her but that's only because she's asleep when they edge closer to her.

Eddie was apparently racked out as only Eddie can be (just look at the picture in my blog header for a perfect example of how he sleeps). Chloe jumped up on Kent's lap and managed to find a way to have lap time with Kent--even if it did mean snuggling with Eddie. Kent said this historic event lasted about 10 minutes.

I think they look a little bit like Siamese twins.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Frequent flier

The next three weeks will be a whirlwind for me. I am (unexpectedly) heading to southern New Jersey for all of next week, returning on Saturday. Then I leave for Seattle on October 5 and return on the 7th. I conclude this little bit of jetting around by flying to Hawaii on October 13 and flying home the night of the 15th although I won’t actually get home until the 16th. I’ll have two weeks at home before I head out again, almost certainly back out to Hawaii.

I just got a new smaller suitcase. I’m a pretty good packer, although truly ultra-light packers would sniff at some of the things I bring and that I use a roller bag. But the bag I was using—a 21” suitcase which meets Delta’s carry on standards—was a little bit too big and my things would fall down in the suitcase and wrinkle more. So I got a 19” bag instead.

We’ll see how it goes. I prefer to carry what I need and no more; the difference for this trip is that I also need to bring a great big honking binder, so the new suitcase may not get a debut until the Seattle trip.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

In other news

I just got an email from Kent. He wrote:

Dear Elizabeth,

With this email I resign my position as house husband effective on 9/29/2010



Those words mean we are returning to a two-income family and I'm not ashamed to say I teared up reading them.

This picture isn’t actually from today but it’s pretty typical of how the cats react to news that doesn’t net them tuna water or a new toy:

If only they knew, they have a huge change coming up in their kitty lives. The boys have pretty much had a hairless one keeping them company since we got them three years ago. Well that's changing now.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Our rug

In addition to floating during our flood last October (and sparing the coffee table from utter ruin) and acting as a sponge during the second water invasion in July, our rug has other benefits. I think we could sleep on it like a bed because it’s very thick and since it’s 100% wool, it also blocks a lot of the cold that seeps in from the floor. I don’t think the store pictures do the rug justice, the colors are a lot more rich in real life.

But what’s really funny is to watch the three cats with the rug. Even when we brought the 12” x 12” sample home, Eddie loved the rug. He was the first to get on the full size version and today he still digs in it with his front paws almost like the rug is dirt. He also loves to roll around on it and often takes long kitty naps on it.

Wally will nap on it but not out in the open; he has to be under the coffee table and usually he prefers to nap up someplace high.

Chloe hates the rug. She’ll walk across it if I’m in the middle waiting to pet her but she lifts her paws high, almost with distaste, and doesn’t stick around long. She would much rather sleep on her back on the hard floor than touch the rug.

I offer you pictures of the two kitties who do enjoy the rug (to varying degrees).

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Frugal fatigue

I thought I’d finish up the original frugal series from my tome by including this part about frugal fatigue. I didn’t invent the term and I don’t recall where I read it first, but essentially after being good for so long, we’ll start to feel deprived and get tired of the restrictions. That’s when we’re more likely to end up having dinner out a second time in a week, and then a third time because we deserve it or are so tired or we’ve been so good etc. In the early days, we lost financial ground because we didn’t actually see the damage we were doing to our savings. Now that we review our financials every month, we see the trend right away before it becomes a budget buster. This recession isn’t over, Kent doesn’t have a job and us choosing to eat out more often just hurts US.

We’ve also learned that we have to find ways to treat ourselves within our budget or else we will fail catastrophically. For us, those treats include buying an ice cream cone (or a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream), or deciding that yes, this week we will eat out once and then have take-out because take-out is still cheaper than sitting down at a restaurant. The key is spending with a plan—my dear friend Cindy has the same philosophy about her diet. Six years ago she was over 100 pounds overweight and now she’s a personal trainer, certified in yoga, Pilates, spinning etc. Her tag line on her blog is “eat intentionally,” and I’ve changed it to say “spend intentionally.”

Kent pointed out that where we made the most severe budget cuts were in the areas that brought us the least pleasure (cable TV, new clothes for the non-working spouse, and minimal clothes for the working one). That’s brought us the most bang for our budget buck. Rather than spread the cut-back pain around everywhere, we completely cut some things out. Living without these low-pleasure items was easier than we thought. Even if we wound up bringing those things back into the budget, we had a very clear idea of how much we wanted to spend.

We’ve also cut out making big house purchases that fall into the want category rather than the need category. This got tested when we had to buy all our furniture again after the flood, because pretty much all of it was ruined. That was a chance for us to decide which items we really did need (not want) and hold off on the rest. So we didn’t replace my sewing cabinet, we didn’t replace the bed even though it’s got a tiny bit of rust on it, and we share one dresser (which required paring down our clothes).

If you are living on a restricted budget, where are your pitfalls? What’s likely to trip you up despite your best intentions?

Saturday, September 18, 2010


I got home last night with very tight back muscles from lots of driving while out in Wyoming and also from carrying around my backpack and toting my suitcase yesterday (I rarely check a bag). So the first thing I did after giving Kent a quick hug was to lie down on our thick rug and relax my back. That put me in the perfect (purfect?) position to get swarmed by the kitties.

And they continued swarming all night long. All three cycled through with meows for attention followed by loud purrs as I roused long enough to pet them. I know cats can have a reputation for being cold and selfish; I just wish those who thought that way could see how I’m greeted when I return from a trip. Our three are quite social, warm and interactive with me. As you can see in the picture on the left, Eddie is lying in the chair behind me as I write this entry. He just wants to be close to me.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Of ruts and registers

I had time yesterday to see the Oregon Trail ruts that are in Guernsey. The second picture is of Register Cliff, which goes to prove that people have been creating graffiti for years. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

In Wyoming now

No pictures yet; I got in last night and focused solely on finding something to eat followed by collapsing in bed. I flew from Boston to Atlanta to Denver, and then drove about three hours to Torrington, WY. I’m visiting one of the programs my company supports, providing consulting to them to (hopefully) fix some problems they’ve been experiencing.

The program is actually at Camp Guernsey (no Wiki page but you can read about it here), which is about a 40 minute drive away. I didn’t realize that until this morning which means I won’t have time to work out. That always bugs me, I feel better and am more relaxed when I work out.

In fact, if I don’t get moving, I’ll be late and I hate to be late even more than I hate missing a workout.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

He's a big boy now

I turned the tub faucet on this morning, pulled the shower curtain back and let Eddie have at it.

What a goober cat.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

He's still obsessed

The spots you'll see in the last picture are water droplets--he bats at the water and sends it flying. That's why I'm yelling at him.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Scary, scary hope

Kent is in the middle of a round of job interviews that appear positive. I hesitate to write even those words because if this doesn’t pan out, we’re back to the status quo which isn’t a lot of fun.

One of the things I disliked the most about my own search was telling people that I had an interview. Invariably they would ask about it later, with the best of intentions. I hated saying that once again I hadn’t gotten the job. I also hated feeling hopeful only to be let down.

If there’s good news, I’ll post it when we get it. You can assume that if I don’t post any sort of follow-up that we are back to the status quo.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Dear new neighbors

Welcome to urban living! In the interest of being a good neighbor, I pulled together some tips and suggestions that will keep you from being a bad neighbor. Nobody wants to be a bad neighbor, right?

First, you are right, the parking spots we have are quite narrow. I know this well, truly I do; the lack of space goes hand in hand with urban living. Be glad you picked a home in the South End and not the North End, where the parking is much worse.

I know you want to back into your spot but you can’t do that. Your spot has a fence along the right side and if you back in, you'll pull too far over into my spot plus you’ll block my back patio gate entirely. That’s the door we use every day and we have to be able to get in and out through there. So pull head on into your spot, and make sure you hug the fence. You'll want to plan ahead and let out any front seat passenger you have before you park, and you'll want to put groceries etc either behind you or in your trunk. Finally, fold in your rear-view mirrors.

Next up are the security lights you turned on last Thursday and haven’t turned off since. You probably don't realize those lights illuminate our patio as though it were a prison; to make things worse, that light then travels down the hall to our bedroom. We are grateful we can shut our curtains and don’t have to deal with the direct light of the bulbs. That's not true for the people in the buildings across the alley. Really, it's a simple solution: Turn off the lights and leave them off. We’ve got a city light fixture already going out there, we don’t need more light.

Finally, please make sure your construction crew vacates my parking spot before 6:30 PM. It’s really not cool that one of us has to go to your place and get their attention and then deal with their attitude about moving their van. After all, they can use your spot.

Love and kisses,


Friday, September 3, 2010

Eddie loves water

Anytime either of us even walks near the bathroom, Eddie runs in and perches on the back of the toilet. He's hoping we'll turn on the sink water faucet.

Frugal, part three

I've written about some of the tactics we've used that worked or didn't work for us regarding budget. But unemployment or underemployment also affects the relationship. In my opinion, this is the area where you make it or end up a divorce statistic.

As Kent and I were talking through what we would say to anyone in our situation, he pointed out that we adopted the mindset that this situation is not temporary. That’s discouraging but also more realistic than being all Pollyanna and sunshine. He’s in one of the three geographic centers for his industry and is now on his ninth month of looking for a job and his sixth month of full unemployment. My own job search took 25 months. So basically we hope for the best but we live like this is how it will be.

Self-doubt, worth and appreciation: When I was unemployed, I felt unappreciated, questioned my value and also felt worthless. Kent says he hasn’t felt sorry for himself and for him worthless is a strong word—he says he experiences self-doubt and wonders if he is as good as he thinks he is. I’d say YES but then again, I’m not the hiring manager. But those feelings affect the relationship and have to be talked through—often.

Being the sole income provider: We’ve had two issues here: first there’s the pressure of bringing home the money because if neither of us has a job, we’re really screwed. The second area overlaps—the working spouse may bring work home if only in his/her head, and will definitely need decompression time after work, and the unemployed spouse will need a chance to have an adult conversation. Those needs can conflict and both need to be met. For us, the one at home tends to babble a bit when the working one gets home, since the cats aren’t very good conversationalists. But that becomes the decompression time for the working partner, because it’s so different from work.

We've worked through the division of household labor twice now. When I was unemployed, I picked up most of those chores. I say most because it’s not fair or appropriate for one person to do ALL the household stuff—that leads to feeling very unappreciated and like you are just a maid or cook. So when Kent worked, he also cleaned the bathroom every week and scooped the cat litter 2x a week. Plus he’d wash up dinner dishes when I cooked.

When our roles switched, we tried to just flip things around. We realized pretty quickly that didn’t work because I have at least a two and a half hour a day drive to work and back, compared to his 40 minutes on a train. Three weeks ago, we had a pretty intense discussion because I was feeling as though what little time I had at home was spent on tasks around the house. But just because I work doesn’t mean I should not lift a finger around the house—that’s still not fair to both of us. So we have a new arrangement: I clean the bathroom, I often but not always do dishes (depends on my commute), and I cook at least on Sunday. You’ll have to figure out what works for you.

Sorting out the division of labor is trickier than it first appears. Dividing equally isn’t truly fair, nor is an all-or-nothing approach. Fair is the goal because fair treats both partners with respect. Fair also takes a lot more work, but the result is a lot healthier for us.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Duke of Earl

We've been following the 5-day forecast of Hurricane Earl as it moves up the eastern seaboard. Between the National Weather Service web site and Weather Underground, a weather junkie can get lots of information. I'd really hoped Earl would move out to the Atlantic before getting this far north but it looks as though that's not the case.

Since we're on tap to get heavy rain tomorrow, Kent arranged to have the gravel for the parking spots delivered yesterday. We're fortunate to have a good friend, Scott, who is a civil engineer. He gave us lots of good advice on how to address our water issue so Kent ordered 4 1/2 cubic yards of gravel.

In the first picture, you can see the boards Kent added to the bottom of our fence. Those boards act as braces for the gravel and should also help the water stay out of our patio. Also notice how bare the ground is--what little gravel was there before got washed away last October when that water main broke.

The second picture shows the gate with that brace board. We have about a four inch step down now with all the gravel in the parking spots. Notice too our lovely Hydra Barriers! I don't care what color they are, those things definitely help. 

You can see what five tons of gravel looks like in the third picture. We don't have any normal-sized yard tools anymore; we have a couple of tools that collapse down because there's just no need for the real deal. Unless you are spreading five tons of gravel.

And it's all spread out in that last picture.

By design, we did not buy enough gravel to cover the entire lot. We got enough to cover the fence along our property line and you can see where the gravel ends--that's the end of our property. We did offer to have more gravel brought in for the other garden unit if he wanted to do the same (and pay for his share) but he said no.

Normally the condo association would pay for something like this but due to other, ongoing issues, we knew that wasn't going to happen for a long time. Frankly we didn't think waiting another year would do anything other than stress us out. We've spent under $500 (gravel: $240; Hydra Barriers: $75; and wood for those braces: $30), which is plenty but as the MasterCard commercial says, the ultimate result (less stress) is priceless.

Tonight we'll cut open contractor-grade trash bags, duct tape them together to form a large flat drop cloth and lay them on the patio bricks near the exterior walls. Hopefully that will reduce the water seepage in through our still-unrepaired foundation.