Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Beady-eyed Bob and Money

I have this friend. Let's call him "Beady-eyed Bob." He and I like to talk about financial matters. We're both savers and planners. When we talk IRAs and how much to put down on a house, he gets a gleam in his eyes, probably similar to the one in mine.

The first time we talked about money was at a picnic. I usually try to keep it on the downlow that I have read nearly every article on MSN Money (my favorite columnist is MP Dunleavey) and am drawn to books like The Millionaire Next Door and How To Marry a Millionaire Vampire. Oh wait, sorry--that's a different kind of book entirely.

Anyway, for some reason Bob and I started talking financial planning strategy. And I discovered that he'd read over all the same articles as I had, and probably even more. Our spouses laughed at the two of us, excitedly recalling our favorite bits of advice.

But to me, it was great to discover that I wasn't alone. Another person our age actually thinks about retirement. Not that Keith doesn't plan with me, but he doesn't get quite as excited about it as I do. I'm not sure what to attribute it to--my obsessive-compulsive personality; a fear of being poor; a sneaking suspicion that everyone else knows more about finances than me, and I'm very far behind.

Especially at this time of year, with Christmas presents adding up, the financial nerd in me comes out. And when I quit my job with no replacement; that also triggers it, I've found. I create 5 different versions of our monthly budget, based on whether I can't find any work at all or I get a $10k book advancement or somewhere in-between. I play with the numbers to figure out whether or not we can pay off our student loans before our 10-year reunion. (We could, but we won't because the interest rate is so low, it's better to use the money elsewhere. Just fyi.)

So tonight when I see Bob, I'll probably ask him about the status of his and his wife's student loans, and whether he'd rather put money in a Roth IRA or increase his monthly house payments. And whether or not he has an Excel Christmas budget that calculates the difference between budgeted costs and actual spending. Hopefully, I'll be reassured that I'm not the only one. And even if I am, well, maybe someday you'll be buying my book, How To Become a Thousandaire through Diligence and Stinginess. A bestseller, I'm sure.

Bonjour, Monsieur Rocket Scientist

I like to tell people that I minored in French. True? Oui. But misleading.

Sadly, I can barely speak a word of it now and can only read one in every five words or so. And my writing has always been terrible, so that's not something I can claimed has fallen into disrepair, because it's always been like that.

My sister and I try. She's much better at it than I am. She writes me long letters in French. I sit down on several occasions and stare at a blank piece of paper for 15 minutes before I get too frustrated and give up.

I have been to Paris once, and actually used my French while there. I asked directions of a shopkeeper and nodded diligently as he spoke and gestured. When we got outside, my friend (who majored in Spanish) asked what he said. I shrugged.
"I know we turn left. When we get to the corner, I'll ask someone else." We proceeded this way to the hotel, with me only understanding one direction at a time. Would this be called a "functional use of French"? I think it depends on how much time you have before you need to be at your destination.

This is why I only tell Americans that I minored in French. Their eyebrows rise and they make that little "oh" with their mouths to indicate that they're impressed with my obvious intelligence. (Or so I like to think.) But they don't actually expect me to demonstrate my capabilities in any way. If I ever find someone who replies, "Really? Because I lived in France for 5 years!" I'll be in serious trouble. Maybe I should do an informal study. For a week or so, make an extra attempt to tell people that I speak French and track how many actually want me to prove it.

Or maybe I'll go the other way and play devil's advocate. Whenever someone tells me they know something, I'll test them on it. Personal experience having taught me that most of it is probably a lie. "So you're familiar with rocket science, huh? Very interesting. So what can you tell me about jet propulsion and Newton's third law of motion? Just briefly, of course."

I suppose my New Year's Resolution could be to increase my fluency in French. Would this be more or less time-consuming than reading 50 books? What if I again pledged to read 50 books, but this time, 10 of them were in French. The thought makes me break out in a cold sweat. Maybe I'll just read about Rockets on Wikipedia--in French--and consider my bases covered.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

I can't believe it's happened so quickly. I've been writing my blog, what? A week? This is my 5th entry ... and I have writer's block. So soon!

Typically, I find myself so amusing. I think, "If only other people knew how amusing I was, surely they'd want to hear more." And now I have that opportunity with my 6ish dedicated readers ... but you all are used to hearing me rant anyway.

I think it's the running of errands that's making me stupid. And the fact that they're never done. Being House-spouse isn't all it's cracked up to be. Although, in my mind, I was both House-spouse and a writer extraordinaire, earning a decent salary in a few hours of work a day.

Instead, I blog once a day (not counting when I'm in Cleveland for the holidays, of course). I think about all of the other projects I should be working on. I apply for freelance jobs that I know I'll never get because I actually have a scant amount of that indefinable quality they like to refer to as "experience." And I sit and wait for that fabulous book deal to come in. I'm sure it'll be any day ...

Sad. Sad and pathetic. I thought I'd have all of this energy with a whole day ahead of me that I can spend how I choose. But it's kind of tiring to be choosing all the time. And worrying about finding a job.* And I feel guilty if I don't clean the apartment every freakin' day. It makes me wonder how we did it before I was home all the time. We're slobs! (Sorry, Keith.)

So yes, apparently today is a feeling sorry for myself day. If you'd like to be entertained, perhaps you should go here instead. (Cathy, I'm thinking this is what you were talking about?)

* Um, yeah. I quit my job before Thanksgiving, just a little FYI.

Monday, November 28, 2005

A Miasma of Books

I did a foolish thing.

Yeah, yeah, I know. I've done many foolish things, including driving on the sidewalk (thanks for reminding me of that, Mom) and singing karaoke. But the specific incident to which I am now referring is when, at the beginning of the year, I heard of the challenge of reading 50 books in 2005.

"Sounds fun!" I thought. I'm a dedicated reader--voracious, even, some might say. I knew reading 50 books in a year would be no problem. But I thought it would be fun to keep track of what I've read and also see just how many books I do read per annum, so as to drop the astonishing number into casual conversation. "Actually, I found Proust quite entertaining. When I read 160 books last year, he was one of my faves."

Um, no. Not quite how it has worked out. There's now only three days left in November and I still need to read 9 more books. Since it's taken me 47 weeks to read 41 books, that means I average .87 books per week. On my usual pace, by the end of the year I'll have read 3.48 more books. That's just not going to cut it. I need to cram in 2.25 books per week, including this week.

Not only that, but I feel pressure to read Books. Since I've actually recorded the titles and authors of the books I have managed to finish, I can't lie to myself and pretend that I've been slow because all of the books were weighty tomes on solving the world's problems or the dilemma of reaching for the American dream. There it is in black and white: I read children's literature and romances. And a handful of other, more literarily-challenging books every now and again. But by and large, my selections have been brain candy. And I'm still significantly behind schedule.

The final hurdle: I'm picky. I'm a word nerd. And if an author has typos, uses the same words/phrases too many times, etc., I get annoyed and put the book down. I'll still usually finish it, but it will take me longer (also contributing to my dilemma, I'm sure). Over Thanksgiving, I was reading a short novel that was highly amusing. I was pleasantly surprised to find the word "miasma" appear on page 60ish. It's one of my favorite words, being so descriptive and fun to say (although difficult to work into conversation, unless you live in a foggy, polluted place).

But then it appeared again around page 100. And with increasing frequency--miasmic on page 124, and I put the book down when a miasmi popped up again on page 136. Please! If you use a specific word like that, it must be used sparingly or else it loses all effect.

So, what are the chances I'll finish 9 books in the next 4 weeks? And how many of them will be children's books? To the former, I give it an 87% chance. I'm feeling optimistic. To the latter: at least one, because I now have book 10 of the Lemony Snicket series in my possession. But if time's getting seriously tight, expect to see Amelia Bedelia and novellas like Holidays on Ice on the list. If you know of any short, quick reads, I'm open to suggestions!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Annual Turkey Day Trek

Ah yes, the holiday traffic. I have a short temper on good days with idiots on the road, and today is going to be awful.

We're doing the drive from Cincinnati to Cleveland, through some of the most boring landscape in the continental U.S.--except for the highlight of Grandpa's Cheesebarn, of course. (Gifts! Souvenirs!)

In honor of the trek, I'd like to do a sporadic early holiday countdown:
  • 10 = number of times we'll be cut off by a car that refuses to signal, like if they pretend they're not wandering 2 feet in front of our bumper, we won't notice. The vehicular equivalent of a man whistling and staring at the sky while cutting in line at the cash register.
  • 9 = number of Hummers (1, 2 or 3) with vanity plates. Because it's not enough that you spent more than a 20% house down payment; you also have to prove that you have money left over to spend on frivolities like a license plate that declares "FLTHY RCH"
  • 7 = number of times I drift off during the drive, because being in a moving vehicle never fails to put me to sleep. It makes me feel like a 3-year-old, fighting to keep my eyes open. But if it makes the drive go faster, I guess I shouldn't complain.
  • 5 = number of times I'll see Spongebob Squarepants on TVs in the back of hi-tech vans. What happened to punching each other and staring? Kids these days.
  • 3 = number of times I'll admit to falling asleep during the drive.
  • 1 = number of nerves I'll have left when we finally arrive at my parents' house. It's a good thing I actually like my family.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Nut-covered Raisin Experts

Where is my Raisin Nut Bran?

As I write this, I stare disconsolately at my oatmeal square, which just isn’t the same.

When it comes to breakfast, I am not adventurous. Dinner? Sure, I’ll try sushi! I enjoy spicy foods and dishes eaten with chopsticks and drinks set afire.

I’m sure I don’t need to explain this to you, but breakfast and dinner are not the same meal. Breakfast is all about comfort and preparing one for the trials of the day at the office with fiber and raisins. Breakfast is eaten while one is still half-asleep, which is my excuse for hardly ever varying my routine. Hot tea (Twinings English Breakfast, actually), with Raisin Nut Bran. Mayhap oatmeal, if I’m feeling really crazy. I like my breakfast monotonous and predictable.

At first I tried to give General Mills the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps, I thought, the only factory in the world that is capable of covering the succulent raisins with their delicious nut coating was located on the Gulf Coast. Slowly, the surplus dwindled until we are now all feeling the effects. Nut-covered Raisin Experts are out of work with a bleak outlook for future employment in their chosen field. I suppose they can try switching to chocolate-covered foods, as there’s a lot more variety in that field, but with the variance in viscosity I would think it’s an entirely different skill set requiring years of apprenticeship.

I realized that theory might be a bit out there, even for me. A more likely scenario would be that RNB is actually being discontinued, which would upset me greatly. You don’t mess with breakfast. I take my breakfast ritual very seriously. What am I supposed to do now?

I went to the General Mills website to disprove my theory and found the following in the company history:

“General Mills traces its roots to the 1860s and a pair of flour mills on opposite banks of the Mississippi River. These two flour mills revolutionized the milling industry and created the foundation for the General Mills of today.”

So it just might be possible after all. I’ll make do with my oatmeal squares and Mueslix for now, and hold on to the hope that as prosperity returns to the Gulf Coast, Raisin Nut Bran will return to the shelves in my local grocery stores. And I’ll toast the Nut-covered Raisin Experts with my cereal spoon.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Dreams: Prognostication or Trash?

My family likes to interpret dreams. I can’t remember when it started—whether my sister Amy or my Mom had the first dream interpretation journal. But for the past several years, I’ve been informed that falling is bad, flying is excellent, and trips could go either way.

When my then-boyfriend (now husband) Keith told my mom he’d had a dream about his teeth falling out, she giggled and informed him that it could mean he was worried about losing control … or impotence. Luckily, I was not there to witness this conversation.

So last night, I had a dream. And, after years of being told about my sister’s and mother’s dreams and interpretations, I usually remember my dreams. At least the most vivid fragments. And my dream last night revolved around someone singing “Humpin’ Around” by Bobby Brown.


I refuse to believe that this could possibly mean anything. I prefer to think that it’s my brain finding completely useless and annoying bits of information and rejecting it. Clearing out the synapses so I can find the cure for cancer or write the next great American novel.

And yet, the conundrum is, now that I dreamt about it, I keep thinking about the song. And singing it to myself. (I would like to note, however, that I only remember about three words.) And trying to find meaning in it. Who is or is not “humping around”? And isn’t that an awful term for something that most people find quite pleasant? It’s now firmly embedded in my brain.

Perhaps people who interpret dreams are actually defeating the whole purpose of dreams, which is to rid the brain of the flotsam and jetsam of modern life that cannot be avoided. Maybe trying to interpret dreams actually makes us less able to be creative and innovative because we cling to ideas/memory fragments that cloud our thinking process.

My sister once had a recurring dream over a course of seven months that focused on water. The ocean. Lots and lots of water imagery. She wracked her brain to figure out what it could possibly mean—what she should be doing differently in her life, or if she needed to reconcile some past event.

And then, one night, she woke up during the dream and realized her cat had jumped on her bladder. Case solved.

If you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to go download “Humpin’ Around” from iTunes. Maybe if I insist on singing it, I can at least sing more than three words.