Thursday, August 30, 2007

The End of Harry Potter

So I finally finished. In the space of a month, I re-read books 1-6 and then devoured book 7.

I'm very sad to have finished. To know that Harry, Ron, and Hermione won't be having any new adventures. To know I won't be taking the Hogwarts Express with them, suffering through Snape's classes, and cheering at the Quidditch matches.

I don't want to say much more, because I'm actually not the last person in my group of family and friends to finish the book (Moms, I'm looking in your direction). After managing not to have the ending or any major plot points revealed, I don't want to be that spoiler for someone else. Interestingly enough, I was impressed how hard it's been to find spoilers online. Since I've finished the book, I've been trying to get others' reactions to and thoughts about it, and I've had difficulty finding articles that discuss the actual events in the book—not just the hoopla surrounding the initial release.

I've also found myself being very jealous of J.K. Rowling. I would love to create a character like Harry, whom millions of people around the world have followed diligently and have incorporated into their lives. I would love to actually write full-time, instead of trying to fit it in around everything else that's going on.

Oh, and living in a castle outside Edinburgh and having a million kajillion dollars wouldn't hurt, either.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Grocery Store Epiphany

*Sorry this post is so long in coming. I really did start it on the 28th, but never got around to finishing this or the next one. Like potato chips they might be slightly stale, but still enjoyable!

Walking down the frozen foods aisle yesterday made me realize how much our eating habits have improved.

Junior year of college is the first time I really remember having to fend for myself in the way of nutrition. Until then, I had been living at home or on the university's meal plan. But with living in a house, I went off the meal plan and started to cook independently.

I use the word "cook" very loosely, however. Junior and senior years of college, we thought a home-cooked meal meant that you took pizza/pasta/stir fry out of the bag or box and heated it up. The amount of sodium I consumed over those years is probably enough to rid a third-world country of iodine deficiency. Plus, we probably ate delivery pizza at least once a week, and Coke was one of our main food groups.

Once I got an apartment, I worked at "cooking" a little harder. I upgraded from box meals to frozen meals--the main difference being that the frozen meals also contained meat and vegetables. I also started packing healthy frozen entrees for lunch. This is when the cycle of addiction to / deprivation of soft drinks started. (And, unfortunately, continues to this day.)

Before our wedding, Keith and I worked hard to get in shape and eat more healthfully. I think that was the biggest turning point for us. Since then, our eating habits sometimes slip, but overall I think that they have changed for the better.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, all of this came to me at the grocery store. It's a strange layout--a very small store with anything requiring refrigeration packed around the perimeter. The first few aisles are the frozen foods, and I realized that I was passing right by them without picking up one prepared entree or ready-made lunch. I did get some soy crumbles for tacos, and also some fudgsicles as a low-cal treat, though.

I also walked right past the prepared, non-frozen foods. I spent most of my time in the bread and cereal aisle (getting actual cereal NOT cereal bars, which were an old staple) and picking out fresh fruits and vegetables.

I know there's still room for improvement. If I could ever completely break my addiction to soft drinks, it would be a miracle. But it was a really good, concrete reminder that I've made a lot of progress!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Bumbling Scientist

Yesterday, while weeding in the front flower bed, I was stung by a bee.

I had noticed this bumblebee hovering around, but I was hoping that if I just ignored it, he'd go away. Instead, he started to climb up my shorts. I found this situation unacceptable. I swatted at my shorts, desperate to get rid of him before I got stung in an unmentionable place. Instead, he stung me just under the nail on my middle finger, which I find infinitely preferable to the alternatives.

Especially since it's meant that, over the past 24 hours, I've often eagerly held up my two middle fingers to Keith for comparison, saying, "Doesn't it look swollen?" And then I giggle.

But I also think it's strange that, after the initial pain and annoyance, I'm fascinated by the fact that I was stung by a bee. I haven't been stung since I was a kid--if I've ever been stung at all. This is all new to me.

I started observing my own symptoms. The immediately affected area turns red and swells? Fascinating! And, of course, I started looking up information online. Did you know that, according to a WebMD article, there's no antidote to bee venom? You can only treat your symptoms--antihistamines for itching, ibuprofen for pain, and ice for the swelling. Very interesting!

Today my finger is still red and swollen, although not as bad as yesterday. I think it's safe to say I won't be having a major allergic reaction. But that won't stop me from holding up my fingers to Keith when he gets home tonight and asking how they look. Then giggling.

Friday, August 24, 2007

It Was A Dark and Stormy Morning

I can't avoid it anymore—I have to admit that the days really are getting shorter.

Of late, when Beckett and I have gone for a run before work, I've noticed that it seems a little darker out. But I always managed to blame it on the weather. It's been raining a lot lately. Or, if not rainy, then at least overcast.

But not today. We walked outside into the dusky pre-dawn light, and I could see enough to know that it was a clear sky. No clouds to block the light. Daylight just hadn't arrived yet.

It's interesting because Fall has always been my favorite season. But that was before I started getting up to run before work. This new habit has definitely changed my outlook on the weather, and the seasons. I remember last Fall, how short the days were by the end of November.

I quit running, pretty much, after the Thanksgiving Day race and didn't start again until March. But even so, I still had to get up and walk the dog. And I found the dark mornings utterly depressing, not to mention treacherous if I was running and happened to miss an uneven sidewalk in the dark.

So this year I'm conflicted. I'm looking forward to the changing of the leaves, the crisp, cool air, and apple cider. But I'm not looking forward to the dark mornings.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

New gadgets!

My cell phone has been dying for a while now. Sometimes the battery charges. And sometimes, it just ... doesn't.

The battery used to fall out, but Keith solved that with an attractive piece of duct tape, slapped across the back of the phone. Yup, the phone's getting old.
We'd talked before about getting new phones, but that would mean signing another 2-year contract, and we didn't really want to commit.

But a couple days ago, the battery wouldn't charge. Again. And all of the tricks that had worked in the past failed us. On Keith's initiative, we went to the local Radioshack, signed a new 2-year agreement (which, to be fair, is the same monthly rate and better terms than what we'd been doing), and walked out with two shiny new phones.

It takes pictures! It can text! But, most importantly, I can charge it. Something I hope never to take for granted again.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Poetic Justice at the Office

I was trapped. This is why I never bother bringing a book to read at lunch. Because I look forward to it all morning, and then don't get to read because I have to listen instead.

Not even take part in conversation, because I rarely say anything. I just listen to other people drone on. One guy in particular is notorious for telling and re-telling the same stories to the same people many, many times.

This time, it was a story that was new to me, yet still incredibly boring. Everyone was leaving the lunchroom and I was getting ready to pick up my book. I was looking forward to Harry Potter and I having the lunchroom to ourselves for a full 15 minutes. But he stopped on his way out and turned. "Did I ever tell you about my son's marching band drums?"

I froze. What's the right answer? If I say "yes," even though the true answer is "no," can I get away with it? Will he leave? I don't remember what I said, but whatever it was, apparently I gave him enough encouragement that he gave up all pretence of leaving and talked away the whole 15 MINUTES with an inane story full of details I couldn't care less about. It was so painful. My book was inches from my right hand, sitting closed up on the table. So close! And yet so far.

Anyway, it's poetic justice because another co-worker slipped out right after "Did I ever tell you about ...?" giving me a grin and a waggle of the fingers as he escaped. The next morning, he came over to my desk to glumly inform me that, after his joy at escaping the lunchtime lecture .... he got caught AFTER work and had to listen to this guy drone on for an hour. AFTER WORK. Not that I would wish that on anyone, but he was very gleeful about leaving me in Chatty Cathy's clutches, as it were.

I didn't bring my book to lunch today. I wasn't even going to risk the despair. Instead, I spent lunchtime staring off into space, dreaming about when I get home and sit on the couch and read uninterrupted. No matter how talkative Gomez is, I won't let her keep me from Harry's adventures.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Travel Envy

I think I meant to blog about this last week, but forgot, and was reminded again by a recent phone call.

Last week, my friend Laurie emailed me a link to her honeymoon pictures from Ireland. The pictures were gorgeous. They went to nearly all of the places I'd visited, and more. It gave me a severe case of travel envy and I was depressed for the rest of the day. I wanted to be seeing these fabulous places, and having these amazing experiences! I wanted to log onto a travel website and buy a ticket to some exotic destination. (Asia, perhaps?;)

But I got over it. I've had many amazing trips, and I'm sure I'll have many more. We didn't travel far this summer, but we had a LOT of trips, and I got to see Louisville and New York City. There's quite a few reasons that we can't have a big trip every year—financial, logistical, and more.

And then today, I had to call a contractor about an inspection service. And the person I spoke to was from the UK. Not just from the UK, but he was from Northwest England, near Liverpool. Talking to him brought back all the memories from our amazing* trip last Fall for Elaine's wedding. This time the travel envy was even worse—and I was jealous of myself! Right now I'm incredibly jealous and wistful, remembering that at this time last year we were planning everything. And knowing what a wonderful trip it would turn out to be, I want to be there again. Experiencing the anticipation and the trip itself.

But I've looked through the trip photos in Keith's Picasa album and reminisced enough. I need to get out of the travel envy funk and remember that we chose to put in a deck instead, plus we had enough small trips that a big one really wasn't an option. I think once I get home from work, and have a glass of wine and read for a bit on the deck, the travel envy will abate.

These trips are so amazing in part because of their rarity, right? So if I traveled all the time I couldn't really appreciate it like I do now. I just have to remind myself of that from time to time.

*I know, I'm totally overusing the word "amazing." I just can't help it! It's the perfect adjective.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Net Effect of Knowing Net Worth

I had originally written the post below as a guest post on a personal finance blog. But it was supposed to appear sometime in July ... so I've given up waiting on the other blog and just decided to post it here.

Since reading personal finance blogs, I've noticed that the author often updates readers on his or her net worth status. If it's gone up (and it usually has, since the person cares enough about personal finance to blog on it), or if it's gone down, and why. There's even an option of getting a free account at NetworthIQ so that your financial health is displayed in all its chart and graph glory.

I'm lured by the pretty colors and many, many tables. But still I hesitate. As I see it, there's two main reasons for me to not go down the NetworthIQ path.
  1. My blog readers are mostly composed of family and friends. People I speak to on a regular basis, and with whom I have a personal relationship. My blog often deals with random incidents and thought-provoking questions (think Jack Handey-esque) that occur to me throughout the day. I mention personal finance, but it's not a big topic. And I don't think I'm comfortable sharing my net worth with everyone. I think it could get awkward.

  2. But wait! You say. You can get a NetworthIQ account and keep it private. So really, it's just for my eyes only. Top Secret. And I thought about doing this for a while. I started to think about where my net worth might fall .... and it's not looking good.

I'm pretty young—"nearly 30" as my Mom helpfully tells people—but I'm not quite there yet. And, like most people my age, I have a lot of debt. Between my husband and me, we're shouldering a substantial amount of student loan and mortgage debt. Supposedly "good debt," but a negative number just the same. And assets? Do my cheerful smile and wicked sense of humor count? No? Well, not a whole lot of assets then.

So I'm afraid that, if I took the time to sit down and figure out my net worth, it would be very depressing. It just might make me give up on the little bit of saving that we've managed to be doing and throw in the towel on this whole "personal finance" thing. Blow my Roth IRA on a trip around Asia.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I'm underestimating our assets. We've both been contributing regularly to our 401(k)s and/or IRAs since our early-20s. Maybe I'd be pleasantly surprised by a positive number for our net worth. But what then? Maybe it makes me think I don't need to save so much. Maybe I stop saving, and instead I blow that money on a trip around Asia.

For now, I think I'm going to avoid the temptation of putting an exact number on my net worth. We'll keep paying down our debt and saving for short- and long-term goals. Maybe someday I'll figure out my net worth. Maybe right after I finish financing that trip around Asia.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Board Bash

I finally took the plunge, and met some of my Internet friends this weekend.

I've been posting very sporadically on the boards at since 2004. I had never gone to any of the previous Board Bashes, where boarders meet up in person, because I'm not really a joiner. But then the station was going off the air last Fall, and I figured it was either now or never, so Keith and I met some Cleveland-area boarders to drink and mourn the passing of a fabulous, unique radio station.

And then the station came back! I'd kept in touch with one boarder, who is even the one who invited me to her writers' group ... so I had, unwittingly, become a joiner after all. And this past weekend was the Cleveland bash, organized by Sushi. Somehow Keith and I ended up hosting a few people, and shuttling them from one place to the next. How did this happen?!?

But it was a good weekend. It was great to put some faces/real names to the board pseudonyms. AND we went several places in Cleveland that I'd been meaning to visit, but hadn't gotten around to yet--the West Side Market, Great Lakes Brewpub, and Edgewater Park. It was also good to see Cleveland from a visitor's perspective, and hear all the good things they had to say about our city.

I don't know what this means for my future participation on the boards. Does this mean I'll start posting more than once a month or so? Maybe. Will I go to another board bash? Probably. Will it be the one that takes place in Brazil or Europe? That would be nice ...

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Deck Finale

Even worse than having to clean the house (and that's saying a lot), Keith and I were both disappointed that the weather's been so crappy that the writing group last night spent the whole time in the air conditioning, instead of enjoying our gorgeous new deck.

Keith had been working nearly every night on the deck, to get it ready in time for our meeting. And then: 60% humidity and temperatures in the 90s. Never mind about being outside, then!

But the writing group meeting went well. And--with no prompting on my part, I swear--one of the members asked for a tour of the house. Of course, I was more than happy to show off our abode--especially the deck. Everyone was jealous about our full attic, big bathroom, and partially finished basement. I even heard the term "house envy" a few times. It was great!

Now if only the weather cools down/dries up, we can have our inaugural cook-out on the deck.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Dinner Party of Writers

I suppose it would be more correct to call it "munchies, finger food, and writers" but the other title sounds more dignified.

I'm hosting my writing group for the first time tonight. It's been a while since we've had anyone new over to the house, and the novelty of showing off Our House has not yet worn off, so we both ran around like ninnies yesterday to clean all the "public" areas (our room is still a complete mess) and present our best foot forward tonight. And I must say, the house looks fabulous.

I think I'm excited to have people over, but mostly I just feel tired from going to sleep at 1 o'clock last night and getting up at 6 o'clock this overcast, gray morning to run 4 miles with the dog. Who apparently is completely immune to humidity, because whereas I was gasping for breath, he was still jauntily tugging my arm off at full throttle.

After work I have to stop by the store because I somehow completely forgot to get French bread last night (grr), and then whip together some scrumptious food. Food that's good enough, they don't even notice that I didn't get a chance to read the piece we're discussing tonight--to be fair, it was only sent out late Monday night. Food that keeps them from being offended when my eyes droop, because I really, really just want a nice long nap. Or to be in bed by 8 o'clock. I guess that's asking a lot of the food, though.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Baby Carrots Demystified

I was talking about this to someone last week, and promised to send them a link to the article. For the life of me, I can't remember who it was--Sorry!--but I'm hoping if I turn it into a blog post, I'm covered.

We eat baby carrots all the time. The process is something like this. I'm in the grocery store, wandering through the produce section. I think to myself, "We really need to eat more fruits and vegetables." Then I take a look around. What's easy? Because I know if I have to spend time preparing it, we'll avoid it and end up letting it go bad and throw it out. I'm not proud of this tendency, but I know it well.

So I see the baby carrots. Already peeled and washed! Conveniently finger-food size! I grab them and go.

Even though I do this often, I always had a sneaking suspicion that this was just too easy. Surely that meant either I was overpaying for the convenience or that, possibly, the baby carrots weren't as nutritious? According to some, both counts are true.

At the Wise Bread blog, this baby carrots entry tells the history of the baby carrot, which I found very interesting. It also argues that baby carrots as they currently exist are wasteful, less tasty, and less nutritious. The Reno Gazette-Journal says that baby carrots have less beta-carotene than normal carrots.

I have been swayed by the tales of waste and loss of nutritional value. Last time I was at the grocery store, I picked up a bag of normal carrots instead of the babies. But I'm still concerned that my lethargy when it comes to the kitchen might prevail. I thought about packing carrots in my lunch several times last week, but stopped when I remembered I'd have to wash, peel, and cut them.

However, this morning I did prepare a couple of carrot sticks and am looking forward to munching on them later. If they're tasty enough, perhaps the baby carrot and I have parted ways.

Friday, August 03, 2007

July Budgeting Quirks

As one of my New Year's Resolutions, I wanted to stay in budget at least 4 months this year. Which should be easy, and yet ... we're in the 8th month and it's only happened once. Yikes!

July was particularly bad for a couple reasons. In the realm of personal spending, we both went to the dentist a few times. This is money that should be coming back to us from insurance (at least most of it), but we had to pay upfront and they wait a month or so and then reimburse us. For the house category, well, you've seen the fabulous deck. And in the miscellaneous and transportation categories, wedding-related expenses pushed us over the edge.

Strangely enough, the ONLY category in which we didn't blow our budget last month was groceries. I can't figure it out. We're generally TERRIBLE at sticking to the grocery budget. We've only stayed in grocery budget 5 of the last 12 months--and one of those was because we started shopping with a calculator and putting things back. That month we stayed within budget by a slim $1.74 margin.

And yet, by some miracle, in July we were under budget by a whopping $39. For us, that's huge! I'm wondering what made the difference. I don't think we ate out any more than usual, and we bought our usual foods too (not just 100 packets of Ramen noodles). We weren't out of town any more than usual (which is to say, we were still gone a lot).

I'm wondering if it has anything to do with the fact that I did a lot of the grocery shopping at the store that's on my way home from work. Is that store really so much cheaper? Or is it because I'm in a hurry so I don't throw as many random purchases into the cart? Maybe something about one person shopping instead of two--we can't talk each other into needless buys?

Obviously, it's too soon to say just based on one month. But I'm interested to see how August shapes up. And somewhat nervous--I'm already thinking about how I'm hosting writing group next Wednesday, people will be visiting the weekend after that, and of course we have to have a cookout! Maybe I'll consider myself lucky if we stay within grocery budget by $1.74 again.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Home Improvement Edition

Keith has been very busy of late. I'm pretty excited--our first real home improvement project! Ever since moving in last summer, we've discussed many, many ideas. But there was always those pesky issues of "money" and "time" that seemed to get in the way.

But, with our 2nd summer in the house waning, we threw caution to the wind and decided that we'd just go ahead and build the deck, and figure out how to pay for it later. So far it's only taken him two weeks, with being gone last weekend even, and it's just about finished. My Dad helped out tremendously with the purchases and framing, otherwise we'd still be standing at Home Depot, scratching our heads and trying to figure out how to get everything transported home.

Since taking these pictures, we've filled in the frame with gravel to suppress the weeds, covered the top with boards and screwed them all in. All that's left to do is cut the top boards to the octagon shape. Then we'll leave them for a few weeks to dry out/settle, and then stain them.

Last night we even ate dinner on the deck for the first time. It was fabulous! Keith also saw Beckett reclining on the deck later that evening, so I guess he's given his seal of approval, too.

The hyper-organized, task-oriented part of myself can't resist asking, now that the deck's nearly done, what the next project will be. But I'm trying to ignore that voice, and spend some time just appreciating our fabulous new deck.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

10-Year Class Reunion

Even though it's already Wednesday (and August!) I'm still sitting at my desk, fondly remembering this past weekend.

One of my high school friends, Ellen, decided to organize a get-together, since we got shafted on our 10-year reunion. Conveniently, her parents had recently bought a lakehouse in Indiana so way back at Christmas we all agreed on a weekend in the summer to meet. In the past few weeks, Ellen has been busy with email updates--she even sent actual mail through the post office! That's how organized she is.

And her organization paid off. There were 19 of us total--11 ALHS grads, 6 significant others, and 2 wee offspring named Audrey. I can't remember the last time that we've all been in the same place at the same time. It was wonderful, relaxing, fun, and reinvigorating.

It was just a reminder of how lucky I was and still am--to have had this great a group of friends in high school, and to still be in touch with them over 10 years later. I also feel the need to quantify this--we're not just in touch because we all moved back to our same hometown after college. Only 4 of us are currently in the Cleveland area, and only 2 of us have made the commitment to buying a house here.

We all grew up, went in different directions for college and after, but still have enough of a friendship to drive 3-4 hours, to a lakehouse in nowhere Indiana, to spend a weekend together. It was an amazing weekend, and one I hope we get to repeat soon, and many times in the upcoming years.