Monday, January 25, 2016
When I lived in Northern Virginia, I played soccer on a bunch of teams — at least two different co-ed teams and then a few different iterations of a women’s team, and lots of different tournament teams. It’s sort of a cult thing around there. Once you start playing with one team, you just keep getting sucked in.
The problem with being even a little bit organized is that you invariably get stuck being in charge of things. After a few years of playing on the main women’s team I played with, I ended up being made the organizer. Despite my protestations. And then we won our division and got moved up into the top division. So then I had to organize a much better team, which was significantly more challenging.
The season we moved up, the people in charge of the league decided to have a one-day pre-season tournament to get everyone ready to play. I was still trying to pull my team together, so this was a bit of a hurdle, but it seemed like we had everything together and we were pretty much ready. But then at the eleventh hour, the fields changed — instead of being out at the Linton Hall fields in Manassas, the games were moved to the Fort Belvoir fields in Alexandria.
Linton Hall and Fort Belvoir are nowhere near each other.
This was spring 1995. Some people in 1995 had cell phones, but normal people in 1995 did not have cell phones.
We did a phone tree (remember those?) to get the word to everyone, and it worked well. We managed to get in touch with all but one person — Michelle Verrier was the only person we couldn’t reach.
Michelle Verrier worked crazy hours and lived at her parents’ house. She had told us she couldn’t make the early game because she was taking a class, but she said she’d be there for the 2pm game. Her plan was to head straight for Linton Hall as soon as she got out of class.
Which was fine, except that now no one would be at Linton Hall when she got there.
When we tried to call her in the morning, she’d already left for class. Tegan, who was helping me with phone calls and had talked to Michelle’s dad, was like “Oh, too bad. Well at least we got everyone else. We did what we could.”
Michelle Verrier happened to be a really good player. And a really nice person. I’d only played with her a few times, but she was someone I definitely wanted to play on my team. On all of my teams in fact. The more teams I could play on with Michelle Verrier, the better.
But everyone else who ran a soccer team felt this same way. Michelle played with like 5 or 6 teams, but she wouldn’t commit to any of them, because her work schedule was so crazy. She would just play when she could.
I knew that if Michelle Verrier got out of class and hauled her butt out to Linton Hall, and when she got there all she found was a bunch of empty soccer fields, I would never see her at one of my games again.
This is what was running through my head when Tegan told me she hadn’t been able to get in touch with Michelle.
I told Tegan I needed more information.
I said, “Where is the class?” And I don’t know if she knew that, or if she had to call Michelle’s house again, but we found out that the class was at Georgetown. And my brother had gone to Georgetown, so I knew that area fairly well, and I knew that (at that time) there was only one main parking lot.
I said, “Find out what kind of car she has.”
So I got a description of the car — make, model, color, distinguishing bumper stickers (and it turned out it had a baby seat! it was her sister’s car, that would make it easier) — and headed to the Georgetown University parking lot.
I found the car.
I wrote a big note on a piece of paper:
MICHELLE — GAMES HAVE BEEN MOVED!!!
TO FORT BELVOIR!
SEE YOU 2PM
I put it under her windshield wiper and hoped for the best.
Now we had done what we could.
I went to the fields. We played the first game. We were sitting around waiting for the second game and I saw a player walking in our direction. It was Michelle!
I was so happy! I said, “You found us!!”
She said, “Oh my gosh, that was SO WEIRD to get to my car and have a note to me on it. How did you do that???”
And she played with us that season, and for the next two years, and after a year she told her other teams she couldn’t play with them anymore and just played with my team.
And I remember this as being one of the crowning achievements of my pre-cell phone days — getting a message to someone I barely knew by leaving a note on her car.
I was reminded of this story on Saturday, when I got a call from one of the people I work with, who was supposed to be going to a conference on Sunday. She said our other co-worker who was supposed to go with her was sick, and she herself wasn’t able to get out of her neighborhood because of the snow, so she thought we would have to cancel the trip to the conference, since neither of them could go.
And I was like, no. We paid for it, it’s important to be there, and there is just not enough snow to cancel this trip.
A similar situation occurred in 2010, we got hit with winter weather the weekend of this same conference. For that one, I was actually scheduled to attend the conference, but the person I was supposed to go with didn’t think it was safe to drive. I thought it would be fine, but I wasn’t going to make someone who didn’t feel safe go with me, so I went by myself.
It was fine.
So when I got the call on Saturday, it seemed like ultimately we might not be able to get there, but I decided before we cancelled, we should at least try to see if we could get something to work.
I hadn’t been out of the house in two days, so a walk over to the building didn’t seem like a bad idea, and I figured I could see how the roads looked, if people were able to drive and things looked icy or clear or what. And if things looked good, I could drive the van back to my house and then leave in the morning. Everything would be fine.
I walked over to the building, picked up the van and drove it home. We left for Charlotte in the morning. Everything was fine.
I feel like people sometimes give up and say they can’t do something before they’ve even tried to see if maybe they can. Because they’ve only thought of one option, the thing they would normally do, and that won’t work. So they think they’re done.
But really, people, you just need to keep thinking. Because maybe something else will work. You just need to think of it.
You just need to make it happen.
Sunday, December 13, 2015
I’m reading the News & Observer on Wednesday. There’s an article in the Life section about two men who have books on entertaining in the South. One of the books is by Scott Barrett, who is, according to the article, “part of the Savannah, Georgia food scene, where he is known as a welcoming host whether he’s serving a casual meal or a black tie dinner.”
The article says:
Barrett likes to quote Julia Child saying, “You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.”
I do a double-take on that.
I look online to find the source of this quote and I see it all over the place, attributed to Julia Child, but I don’t see anything that gives a source.
The reason I am questioning this quote is because I spent a lot of time a few years ago with the 1950s/60s version of Julia Child and that Julia Child was not about cooking good food from fresh ingredients.
That Julia Child was about creating delicious, classic French dishes from whatever ingredients were available in the average American supermarket in the 1950s. That was the whole point of her book.
If you read As Always, Julia, you learn about things that you didn’t even know existed (canned onions???) as Julia consulted with Avis DeVoto to find out what was available in America and Avis sent American ingredients over to France so Julia could test them in her recipes to make sure everything would come out as expected, or if it didn’t, adjust the recipes so Americans wouldn’t be in for any surprises when they used the cookbook.
Over and over, Julia said that Mastering the Art of French Cooking was designed for “serious cooks” — people who cared about good food and were willing to spend the time required to make it. It was not about making things that were quick or easy.
I’m not going to be able to find the quote, but Julie Powell commented on this at one point, that the way Julia’s recipes worked, you would take an ingredient then do something to it, then do something else, then add a sauce. By the time you’re done with all that, it doesn’t much matter what kind of shape the ingredient was in to start with.
Which really was the whole point, because “fresh ingredients” were simply not available in America in the 1950s, and Julia’s goal was to work around that and still get something delicious.
In her biography of Julia Child in the Penguin Lives series, food historian Laura Shapiro writes on page 165:
Great cooking meant, as she often said, doing something to the food, not serving a few slices of humanely raised veal on a plate with three perfect radishes and calling it dinner. She didn’t even like humanely raised veal; she thought it was tasteless. This worshipful approach to ingredients, she told a San Francisco magazine, “takes us away from cuisine as an art form into something that I believe is much too simple, too tiresome.” Worse, the emphasis on organic, artisanal ingredients put California cuisine far beyond the reach of most Americans, who shopped in supermarkets and had never seen a pea shoot or a leaf of baby arugula in their lives. Julia’s entire career was predicated on supermarkets, and she couldn’t see the point of promoting a cuisine that was too rarefied to be supplied by Safeway or Stop & Shop.
I think people like to take whatever they think about food now and ascribe it to Julia Child. And then make a poster of it. Which doesn’t mean that she didn’t say it, but I’d be interested in the source, so if anyone has that, please send it along.
And I will leave you with a Julia Child quote I prefer, taken, again, from the Laura Shapiro biography:
I think one should get one’s vitamins in salads, and raw fruits, and what is cooked should be absolutely delicious and to hell with the vitamins.
Thursday, November 5, 2015
As previously mentioned, I recently read the Marie Kondo book. I am still formulating my final opinion about the entirety of it, but one of her ideas that I can completely get behind is the idea that coins go “into your wallet.”
She commented that many of her clients’ homes, when she would first visit, would have loose change scattered about: in the bottom of bags, dropped on the tops of dressers and end tables, stored in jars.
(Similarly, in The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin refers to a “scum of clutter” that “filmed the surface” of her family’s home; when she sizes up her bedroom, she notes that “CDs, DVDs, cords, chargers, coins, collar stays, business cards and instruction booklets were scattered like confetti.”)
I myself have noted this phenomenon — people leave change everywhere. Including strewn on the floor.
I can understand why someone would put it in a jar, and I can even see how it could end up on a dresser or tabletop, but having it scattered across the floor baffles me. Why? Why would you ever drop change on the floor and not pick it up??
When I lived in Virginia in the mid-90s, my housemate Ted saved his pennies in a jar and when he moved to Utah he said he was leaving them behind for me and our other housemate, Chip. Chip pooh-poohed the pennies so I took possession of them. There were a lot. My bank was near my office, and I commuted to work by bike, so I had to carry them in to the office in my bag on my back. It was heavy.
The teller at my bank told me the way it worked is that I put a deposit slip with my account number in the bag with the pennies and they would run them through the counting machine then credit my account for the total amount. Easy enough. As soon as I handed the bag over to the bank, I promptly forgot about it.
My next month’s bank statement had a mystery deposit for seventeen dollars and some change on it.
I was like what the heck is this? I finally figured out (possibly by contacting the bank) that it was the pennies. I told Chip about the deposit. He said, “Hey! Half of that is mine!”
No go dude.
When my grandmother died and we cleaned out her apartment, we found so much change that I gave up on counting it all and instead separated it by denomination and weighed each pile and divided them into thirds and gave three approximately equal piles (roughly equal by denomination, which totalled a roughly equal cumulative pile) to my three nieces. I told them they could count it up themselves. My estimate was $83.07, and I feel like I was pretty close to the actual total, but I don’t remember what the final count was.
I’m not sure why my grandmother had so much change. She played penny poker with it, so some of it was for that, but there really was a lot.
When I was growing up, my grandmother would save her quarters and put them in a small blue glass candy dish that she kept in the coat closet near the front door. When she had accumulated ten dollars worth, she’d put the quarters in a roll, and when she had two rolls, she’d give one to me and one to my brother.
This is good thing to do with your change — save it as a special treat for your grandchildren.
Scattering your change across your floor and never bothering to pick it up is a not a good thing to do with it.
Nor is not taking it in the first place.
I was at the Green Market a few weeks ago buying a churro. The woman in front of me ordered $4.25 worth of treats and when the vendor tried to hand over her $0.75 change, she refused it. I can only imagine what my faced looked like. I almost stuck out my hand and said, “I’ll take it.” But I bit my tongue and let the vendor keep it.
TAKE YOUR CHANGE PEOPLE.
So the point of this post is to provide a short public service announcement in case anyone out there is confused about the nature of coins given as change for dollar bills.
Change is in fact actual money that you can spend just like dollar bills. It is legal tender. You do not need to take coins to a machine at the supermarket and pay money to turn them into dollar bills. You can start spending them right now, every time you buy something. Carry a little coin purse with you and see if you can make exact change on every purchase.
If you have really a lot, separate out the quarters and start with those. Eventually you will get through it all.
And then try to remember: Coins go into your wallet.
Sunday, October 4, 2015
A few weeks ago I became mildly obsessed with the Marie Kondo thing. I hadn’t read the book, just heard about it, and I start reading things on the internet and watching YouTube videos to try to learn more.
Everyone just loves loves loves this book. And I have not come to my final opinion on it yet. (I did read the book but at the moment I’m having trouble getting past the part where she tells people to throw out all their papers … that will make tax season fun for everyone…) But while I was reading about it on the internet, I started making notes, because some things were getting under my skin.
One comment I had was about the before and after photos/videos that people were posting. My god people, you have so much stuff! Look at all that crap.
In one video, a woman who was posting about cleaning out her linen closet said that in the past when she ran the washer and forgot about the towels and they mildewed, she would THROW THEM AWAY. Because they smelled. She would just buy new ones.
No wonder no one has any money.
But the thing that really got me rolling was a post (which of course I now cannot find, so you will just have to take my word for it) where a guy talked about cleaning out his books.
He said he went through his books and discovered that 20% of them weren’t even his, and no one had ever asked for them back. He said that just goes to show that people have so much stuff they don’t even notice or care when it’s gone.
And I’m like DUDE!!!!
It’s now up to the person who loaned the book to ask for it BACK?
That’s not how it works!!!!
The person who BORROWED the book gives it back when they’re DONE with it. Or if they realize they’re never going to GET to it. Then they give it back and say thanks man, I appreciate you letting me borrow that.
You just kept people’s books and didn’t even know and now it’s THEIR fault for not asking for them back?!?!
Talk about BLAME THE VICTIM!!!
I once loaned a book to a friend, and later saw it on her bookshelf when I was at her house for dinner. Eventually I asked her if I could get it back and she said, “Oh, I gave that back to you.” And I said I didn’t think she had, but she insisted. And short of going to her house and going through her bookshelf and pulling it out and saying, “No, see, here it is right here,” which seemed like not a very friendly thing to do, I didn’t know what to do. I just let it go.
So that one struck a nerve.
Okay rant over.
But here is a short message for any of my friends who may be reading this…
If in your great KonMari purge of 2015, you find anything of mine that no longer sparks joy in you — books you borrowed, letters I wrote you, mix tapes I made you in the 80s — feel free to send them back to me.
I love that shit.
Thursday, September 24, 2015
I was talking to a friend of a friend today, who is one of those people who is very fearful about the future.
She believes strongly that the world is going to hell in a handbasket — that corporations are out to get us, the water is poisoned, nothing good is ever going to happen again.
(In her defense, she’d just come back from western Pennsylvania, where the water is in fact being poisoned, and even if they wanted to, corporations can’t care about anything other than shareholder value. So it’s hard to say that she’s too far off.)
She is worried about the future. She feels like the end is near.
I was in her shop with my friend Ann. I said, “You know, it’s funny. We were just talking about this at lunch.”
Because we were, we’d been talking about this very thing.
I said, “In all of the post-apocalyptic movies and novels, some terrible thing happens and people turn on each other, everything completely falls apart, it’s dog-eat-dog, every man for himself.”
“But in the real world when crisis hits, people come together, they work together and help each other. World War II, the Great Depression, 9/11. All of those brought Americans together.”
Our friend looked at me skeptically. This was not what she wanted to talk about, people coming together to help each other.
But really, we’ve created this world where everything is so easy, we have so much more leisure time than we used to. But what do we do with it? We consume media — we watch tv and movies and play video games.
No one does anything anymore. They watch other people do things.
People are so addicted to passive entertainment that people actually WATCH OTHER PEOPLE PLAY VIDEO GAMES. (I am not making this up. This is a huge thing on YouTube. Ask your nearest 8-year-old about Minecraft and he’ll be happy to show you.)
This is what we’ve done with our abundant free time.
And people are bored and unhappy and dissatisfied. They feel unfulfilled because contemporary American life is inherently unfulfilling.
Geez louise people, if that’s not a dystopia, I don’t know what is.
I feel like if all of this went away — Instagram and iPhones and movies and television and Minecraft videos on YouTube — it would be really hard. Really really hard.
For like 3 weeks.
And then everyone would be like okay let’s go play frisbee.
(And yes, I know in an actual apocalypse, with dead bodies everywhere and no running water and such, things would be very chaotic. But people lived for many many many many years without electricity, and I have complete faith in man’s ingenuity, that in the event of true catastrophe, people would figure something out.)
So … bottom line. I am not worried about the apocalypse because I think it might well be an improvement over what we’ve got now.
Sunday, June 14, 2015
I’ve been thinking lately about Ignatius J. Reilly, the generally repulsive yet oddly compelling protagonist of John Kennedy Toole’s great comic novel A Confederacy of Dunces.
I thought of him often over the winter, because one of the pairs of pants that I ended up wearing a lot was this pair of brown “loose fit” Gap cordurouys that had wide legs and very large, deep pockets. The word that came to mind when I put them on was “capacious.” I kept thinking of the introductory description of Ignatius on the first page of the book, when he’s waiting for his mother at the D.H. Holmes department store — “The voluminous tweed trousers were durable and permitted unusually free locomotion. Their pleats and nooks contained pockets of warm, stale air that soothed Ignatius.”
That’s what I felt like when I wore those pants. Soothing pleats and nooks, with unusually free locomotion.
Lately I’ve been thinking about Ignatius when it comes to reading things on the internet.
I think I may have mentioned previously that I don’t make a habit of reading good, useful information on the internet. Instead I tend to latch on to some thing that annoys me, something I read and pull my hair out and say, “Gaah!!! No! What are you thinking?!?!”
Like Ignatius, who liked to go to the movies so he could throw popcorn at the screen and complain loudly about everything that offended him about modern life (which was most everything). That is me.
I’ve realized that I don’t like reading blogs by people who have everything figured out — “here, look at how great my life is, look at how smart and successful I am.” Those feel boring and pointless to me.
I like a little bit of angst in my blogs. But it’s hard to find the right amount of angst — a little bit can feel real and useful but too much quickly becomes tiresome. But sometimes I’ll find one with just the right amount and it flips me into hate-reading mode. Which then sucks me down a rabbit hole of guilty pleasure. It’s like reading Valley of the Dolls, it’s so bad I can’t put it down.
And I’d gone months and months without any internet obsessions at all but I recently came across an intriguing lifestyle/personal finance blog that I’ve been reading and pulling my hair out over and which has helped crystallize some of my thoughts about personal finance and happiness and life in general.
(And note that I’m leaving off the object of my hate-reading, because it doesn’t seem nice to tell the internet that you hate-read someone who is trying to write a serious blog. So here I’ll just talk about what I’ve learned.)
The PF blogging world has basically two camps in their approach to advising people how to get ahead: those who focus on spending less and those who focus on earning more. Of course most bloggers acknowledge that both strategies play a role, but usually they come down on the side of one or the other as being more important.
The people who focus on earning more tend to be dismissive of the people who focus on spending less — they think you just can’t make very much progress by cutting back on spending, there’s just not enough to work with, and it’s silly to put energy into saving small amounts of money here and there. They think the only way to really get ahead is to make more money.
And on some level, I agree with that — if your income is very low or if your fixed expenses are very high, your options can be constrained.
On the other hand, people usually have more control over how they spend their money than they do over how they make it. So in that sense focusing on spending less can be better because it’s something you can do right now, that doesn’t depend on the actions of people over whom you have no control.
But until getting sucked into reading this blog, written by someone who managed to save over $300,000 in less than 10 years, starting with around $10K and a starting salary of $25K, I hadn’t really thought through the fact that there’s another important difference between getting ahead by making more or getting ahead by spending less.
I’ve realized in reading about someone who has been very successful in achieving financial goals by making more money that there is a huge nonfinancial element to focusing on spending.
If you follow the Your Money or Your Life model and reduce expenditures by tracking and analyzing your spending, you are by way of this process clarifying your values — you are thinking about what you care about, and whether or not the money you spend is being used to support things you care about. You reduce spending on the things you don’t care about and you end up spending much less without any decrease in your overall quality of life.
The process helps you figure out what you actually need and allows you to be happy on much less than you ever could have imagined, and much less than most people spend. It’s like you enter a parallel universe where you always have enough. It’s magical.
If instead you focus on making more, you’re not able to figure out how much is “enough” because you’re not really thinking about that, you can always use more, and more is always better. So there’s no end. (Or maybe you do think about what’s enough but it’s a really huge number — $10 million or something like that.)
Also focusing on making more requires you to keep on keeping on in the economic stew of modern life — as my friend Ann likes to say, you have to stay in the puddin’.
You have to constantly be networking, working on job skills, dealing with bosses and clients. You need to move up the ladder in your office, or find a new job, or take on side gigs.
You need to hustle.
There’s nothing wrong with that, and certainly that approach is the best way to increase your income. But it’s not necessarily the best way to improve your quality of life.
No matter how much money you make or save or spend — or don’t make or save or spend — at some point you have to figure out what makes you happy. The process of making more money generally does not help you figure this out. So you can make a lot more money than you used to while being no happier at all.
I feel like the YMOYL approach almost has an element of therapy to it.
It’s very structured — track what you spend, think about it, figure out how to spend less; track what you save, think about it, figure out how to make more. By focusing on these specific things, you are figuring out what you need and what you don’t need.
By needing less, you are able to let go of things, and in doing that, you gain freedom.
People in your life can’t control you with strings-attached gifts. Employers don’t have the same leverage because you can walk away at any time. Your life overall is less stressful if what you need to be happy is easily within your capacity to generate — if what you need to be happy is as much as you can possibly make by working as hard as you can all the time, you are always going to be behind the eight ball. Your life will always be stressful.
Making more money involves thinking about other people — bosses, clients, customers. Spending less money involves thinking about you (and possibly the people directly connected to you — spouse, children, other relatives).
Spending less allows you to disengage from many things that can cause anxiety — it lets you stop worrying about how what you are buying compares to what other people are buying, or what it says about you or what other people think about you. (Worrying about what other people think about you seems to be a major source of anxiety for many people.)
I truly believe that focusing on what you care about, what you want, what you value, can help get you out of that mindset. It can help free you.
Spending less gets you to this place where you are in control of your life, and where your world feels manageable.
It is the key to happiness.
Or one of them, at least.
(And while on the subject of being happy, I read The Happiness Project while on my trip and I may write about that at some point. I liked it.)
Go forth and be happy. And stay cool if you can.
Monday, May 25, 2015
I had a nice visit with some new friends at the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County Oregon, and got to spend a few days wandering around Portland.
And I had on my list of things to do before leaving “write blog post” but it didn’t happen, so that is still on the list.
And now I’m back but I have NOTHING TO SAY.
But in a desperate attempt to get this crossed off my list, I’m writing anyway.
My parents came to visit for my graduation, my mom said that it had been a while since I’d given them a new recipe. She said I was due. I said, “Hmm… I don’t have any new recipes because I haven’t cooked anything.”
I said here’s my recipe for the year: you can get a McChicken sandwich and a yogurt parfait for two dollars at McDonald’s. Cheapest meal around. You can’t even get food at a convenience store for that.
She was nonplussed by this bit of wisdom. Nor has anyone else I’ve shared it with been much impressed.
Nonetheless, I stand by it. This works especially well when you leave your house at 7:15 a.m. and return at 9 p.m. (or later) every day. There is a McDonald’s every half-mile in this country, and if you have two dollars ($2.15 if you’re in Durham, sales tax is 7.5%), you can stop thinking about what you might or could or should eat and just go get a chicken sandwich and yogurt parfait and be done with it. And no dishes either.
The last new recipe I gave my parents was Marion Cunningham’s version of mahogany chicken. It meets all of my key recipe criteria: easy, cheap, good. And it makes good leftovers, all that yummy sauce. And if I ever manage to get back to cooking actual meals again, it will be one of the first things I make.
(For the record, I have moved past the McChicken sandwiches and on to scrambled eggs, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten. One step at a time.)
So this post won’t help my mom, she already has this recipe, but maybe someone else will like it.
Mahogany Chicken Legs with Fresh Ginger
from The Supper Book by Marion Cunningham
4 Tbsp peanut oil
8 chicken thighs and legs
1/3 cup peeled and sliced (1/4 inch thick) fresh ginger
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup sherry
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup sliced scallions [optional]
1/2 cup whole cilantro leaves [optional]
4 cups steamed long-grain white rice
Put the peanut oil in a deep skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the chicken pieces, skin side down, and the ginger slices. Brown the chicken for 10 minutes, then turn over and brown for 5 more minutes. (It is important to use a deep skillet because the chicken tends to spatter while browning.) Reduce the heat if necessary to keep the chicken and ginger from burning. If the ginger slices brown too quickly, remove them to a paper towel and put them back in the skillet when you add the soy mixture.
Mix together the soy sauce, sherry, and sugar. Pour the soy mixture over the chicken, cover, and cook for about 2 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with the scallions and cilantro leaves. Serve immediately with the rice.