Tax Day

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Tuesday was tax day. I hope everyone got everything in and filed on time. I personally enjoyed the extra three days this year, because I do my taxes old school, on paper, and the last part — where I ink everything (I write the numbers in pencil to start, so I can fix my inevitable mistakes writing down the right thing on the wrong line, or the wrong thing on the right line), and make copies and take it all to the post office — always takes three times as long as it seems like it should, so I always end up running around at the last minute and then being mad at myself for running around at the last minute. That part is always the worst.

But this year, I was much better about it, and I was able to spread the painful part out over three days. On Saturday I reviewed everything and made sure I had printed all the right forms and transferred my numbers to the forms. (I have an Excel workbook where I can plug in everything, separate tabs for each of the forms I use, so if I make a change it flows through to the 1040 worksheet, and then I transfer that to paper.) On Sunday I reviewed my final numbers and made sure they added up properly on the paper. (Sometimes there are problems between the Excel numbers and the paper numbers, because Excel has dollars and cents, but on the form I round to whole dollars.) Then I did my state forms with the final numbers from my 1040. On Monday I inked them and got envelopes and made sure I had the right address for my Federal form, and then figured out my estimated taxes for 2017 to try to get back on track and all caught up again with my taxes. (I fell off the horse halfway through last year and just gave up, decided to deal with it all in April … $4,000 later, I am now caught up.)

Then on Tuesday — last chance! — my plan was to go to Kinko’s and make copies (which is a very important step if you do your taxes on paper, I forgot that one year when I first was starting … but I had faxed a copy for my dad to review, so he was able to send a copy of the faxed forms back to me for my records) and then go to the post office and mail them and I would be done.

My work day starts at 1 p.m. on Tuesdays so I figured if I left at noon that would give me plenty of time to hit Kinko’s then the post office then get to work.

I left a little bit late, around 12:20 p.m. and when I got to Kinko’s there was a line for the copiers. A line?? I was not expecting this. I do not go to Kinko’s much these days but I do not recall having to wait in line at Kinko’s. Then I realized that I’m usually at Kinko’s at like 10 or 11 p.m.,  so maybe that’s why.

It took a few minutes, but not too long, and I did get my copies made, but by the time I was done, it was 12:50 p.m., which meant that I had to get to work. I would have to take a break from work and go to the post office after my meeting.

So I went to work and had my meeting and did whatever else needed to be done, and I headed toward the door to go to the post office, having also picked up someone else’s tax forms that needed to be mailed. (He had done them online, but wasn’t able to e-file for some reason, and his housemate who shares my office was supposed to mail them for him but she had forgotten. I said I would take them with me when I took care of mine.)

Ann saw me leaving and asked if I was going for doughnuts (our code word for the weekly bank run, shhh don’t tell anyone) and I said I was going to the post office, but there was a post office near the doughnut bank if she needed to get something there and wanted to go with me.

So Ann and I took care of her doughnut banking and then went to the post office and we got there at 3:50 p.m. and there were like 10 people in line at the automated machine and about 20 people in line for the counters. And it wasn’t like they didn’t have anyone working, there were 4 or 5 clerks working.

Big day at the post office!

Ann was stressed because she was leaving on a trip the next day and she still had a bunch of stuff to take care of. Standing in line at the post office for 20 minutes was not on her list of things to do that day. I told her we should enjoy the break in the day, take some deep cleansing breaths there in the post office line.

Breathe in …. breathe out …

See, isn’t that nice?

I mailed my three envelopes (2016 Federal tax, 2016 State tax, 2017 Federal estimated tax; I’m going to adjust my withholding to cover the state taxes, so no envelope for that), and my friend’s two envelopes, which he did badly and ended up needing extra postage. (H­e put them in 9 x 12 flat envelopes instead of folding into a letter envelope; they each needed $1.19 in postage instead of $0.49, and he put two Forever stamps on but that’s only $0.98, so I spotted him the 2 x $0.21 = $0.42 so they could go out on time.)

Ann bought some Jimi Hendrix stamps. (I told her to get the Oscar de la Renta,but they didn’t have those.) And we were on our way.

And the original point of this post was not to give a minute-by-minute account of my day on April 18, 2017, but sometimes when I start writing, these things happen. We’re just going to have to roll with it.

The ACTUAL POINT of this post in the first place was to tell a story about something that happened to me in 2015 when I was getting my accounting degree at UNC.

The UNC law school runs a VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program to help students (and anyone else who wants to come to the law school for help) file their taxes. They recruited MAC students to participate, and this was definitely something I was interested in. I had experience with taxes, and taxes are stressful for people, so I wanted to be able to help out and make things easier.

You’d think that most students would have simple taxes but it was actually fairly complicated with the way tuition and fees are reported, and education credits that are available, and whether someone is a dependent or should file on their own. There were more things to trip you up than you’d think.

I had one couple who had bought insurance through the Federal exchange, and this was the first year for reporting that so it was all new to everyone, and they had the most complicated situation imaginable (without being self-employed … being self-employed and getting insurance through the exchange and being eligible for a subsidy is the most complicated situation imaginable).

They had waited to enroll until the last moment before being penalized, and then the husband had gotten a job halfway through the year that had insurance but the wife stayed on the exchange insurance for the full year. They had three Forms 1095-A and I thought I handled it properly but then I couldn’t get the system to take Form 8962 so I knew I’d done something wrong.

I ended up having to do a bunch of research and learning completely new terms like “tax family” and I finally got it figured out and submitted. After I had it all resolved I was talking to my tax professor about it and she said, “You probably know more about this than anyone else in this building.” And that was true, I probably did.

I did 4 or 5 sessions of VITA, and it was nice to be helpful, but I actually thought I might have been better off knowing less. Sometimes I felt like I was over-thinking things, I was aware of complicating factors that most of the time turned out to not apply, and it would have been easier if I hadn’t known anything about them in the first place because it turned out the same in the end.

But whatever. It was fine and I’m glad I did it.

However, there was one piece of information disseminated by the UNC Law VITA program that was simply wrong.

I was reading their little information sheet about filing, and we did the returns on computers using the IRS tax program, so almost everyone filed electronically, but they did include information about mailing your form for anyone who wanted to do that.

The information sheet stated that if you wished to file a paper form, you should mail it at least two weeks before the filing deadline so it would be in by the due date.

I hope that everyone who reads that statement is as horrified by it as I am. This is even worse than not knowing what a phone book is.

How can you not know that the deadline of April 15 is the date that your form needs to be MAILED, not the date it needs to be received and processed by?

How can this be?

I wanted to tell them about how back in the day post offices would stay open until midnight, and the late-night ­copy shops would be filled with last-minute filers making copies of their forms before running off to the late-night post office to mail.

I remember one April 15 riding my bike to Kinko’s then heading downtown where the main post office building was closed but they had a postal truck stationed outside with postal workers taking stamped envelopes and putting them in bins on the truck. It was such a relief to hand the envelopes over to someone, to know that I made it in under the wire.

Tax day was this shared experience, all of the procrastinators in America frantically filling out forms and running around copying them and finding envelopes and stamps and rushing to get everything in the mail. Everyone doing the same thing on the same day.

And now … not so much.

I guess it’s everyone sitting at their computer trying to hit the “send” button before midnight, crashing servers and such. Just not the same drama, if you ask me.

But anyway, I hope everyone finished everything and got it all in. And that no one had to wait too long in the line at the post office.

A Story from a Long Time Ago

Thursday, October 27, 2016

I will introduce this story by saying that I have a freakish memory. So much so that sometimes I wonder if there is not something better I could be doing with my brain than remembering details from other people’s lives that even they do not remember. (At least this story is about my actual life, not someone else’s.)

I saw in the paper a few weeks ago that Hal Ketchum was playing in Durham. I have never heard Hal Ketchum’s music and I know basically nothing about him, but it made me laugh because of the following story.

In June 1995, I broke my arm playing soccer. I was living in Arlington, Virginia and working in Dupont Circle, and had been commuting to work by bike. Given the broken arm, I had to find a new mode of transport. After a few morning trips on the Metro, I decided I would walk to work until I was able to ride my bike again — turned out that summertime Metro riding with a broken arm was not that much fun.

So I’m heading off to work walking across Key Bridge and I’m wearing a t-shirt I’d had since college that had on it a comic strip character drawn by someone I had been friendly with in school. The character was named Sidney. I’m about a third of the way across the bridge and I see a person walking toward me from the other direction and he gets to where he can see me and he says, “Hey! You’re wearing a Sidney t-shirt!” And then he says, “What did you do to your arm?”

It was Ted Rex, the person I had been friendly with at school who was the creator of Sidney and the designer of the 6 year-old t-shirt I was wearing. (Later he told me that he recognized the t-shirt long before he could tell who I was.)

[Random aside: He is also the person who told me about the space shuttle Challenger explosion in January 1986. We were sitting next to each other on the bus. After he told me the news he said, “Yeah. And it’s so weird because yesterday was Mozart’s birthday.”]

So we stop and exchange pleasantries and I tell him what I did to my arm and then we move along in our opposite directions on our way to our respective workplaces.

And then later when I’m thinking about it I’m thinking that this is odd, because the last I knew, Ted was living in Falls Church. I’m like what was he doing walking across Key Bridge at 8 o’clock in the morning? It was Forth of July weekend, so I thought it might be related to that, and also that meant we had a break in our normal commuting schedules and I didn’t walk to work for a few days and I was sort of mad at myself for not asking more questions. I was stuck in a state of mild confusion trying to figure out what was going on.

But then the holiday weekend ended and it was back to the regular routine, and I walked to work and ran into Ted on the bridge again, so I got to ask him all of the follow-up questions I should have asked in the first place.

Turned out that his housemate in Falls Church had gotten married so he had to move out and he was subletting a place in Georgetown for the summer waiting for his friend Chip to finish a post-law school clerkship and then they were going to rent a house to live in.

Coincidentally, my housemate was getting married in a few months so I too was looking for a new place to live.

Ted and I were on the same work schedule and we had basically the same route to work, in opposite directions, so we saw each other every day and would check in on how the house-hunting was going. Which of course was grim. (People who believe that renting is better than owning have never tried to find an affordable apartment within walking distance to the Metro in the Washington, D.C. area.)

One day I took the Metro instead of walking, and when I got home that night, there was a message on the answering machine from Ted.

He said he missed me walking and hoped everything was okay. Then he said that Chip had been in town and they were looking at houses and had an idea — they wondered if I wanted to go in on a house with them.

This was an intriguing notion.

The market for small apartments was terrible, as was, it turned out, the market for small houses. Ted and Chip figured that if the three of us pooled our resources, we could get a much better place than we could each on our own.

I continued to look for the perfect apartment, but I also started looking at houses with Ted. This was much more enjoyable than looking for an apartment, if only because I had someone to suffer with.

We looked at many, many houses. Most of them were completely unsuitable for three unrelated people to live in, or completely geographically undesirable, or completely out of our price range. Or some combination thereof.

We finally found one house, on Jackson Street, that we loved, but someone else rented it before we could get our name on it.  After that, Ted kept comparing every house we looked at to the Jackson Street house. Finally I was like, “Ted, that house is gone. It doesn’t matter whether this house is better or worse than the Jackson Street house because we can’t live in the Jackson Street house. Stop thinking about the Jackson Street house. You need to move on.”

We then found this completely AMAZING house on Washington Boulevard. It had five bedrooms and three full bathrooms and was built by an architect for his family. It was exactly in our price range. The only downsides were that it was on a busy street and it was a bit far from the Metro. But it was definitely within walking distance to the Metro and it was very bikeable and I was able to convince Ted that the busy street would be fine. Because everything else about it was perfect, we both loved it.

Chip was still in Virginia Beach and we were going to have to make a decision without his input because we needed to get everything signed so we didn’t lose it. So we signed the lease and I fronted the $2,000 for the security deposit.

It was a huge relief to find a place and I was really excited about living there.

Ted and I continued to see each other every morning on our walk to work. During one of our morning chats, I said I was going to a concert at Wolf Trap that night. Ted said he had just been there. He said he had seen Hank Ketchum. And I was like, “Really? Hank Ketchum?”

I said, “Hank Ketchum, the guy who draws Dennis the Menace?”

Ted said, without hesitation, “Yeah.”

This seemed very odd to me. “What was he doing?,” I asked.

Ted said, again with a completely straight face, “Drawing pictures.” He mimed the action of someone up on a stage drawing a cartoon, “To music.”

And I just looked at him. I was like “Really?” And I didn’t really believe him but whatever, it was Ted and I had to get to work. I let it go and we went off in our opposite directions.

I don’t remember exactly how I found out that it was Hal Ketchum at Wolf Trap, not Hank Ketchum. Maybe someone told me or maybe I looked it up. (Or, now that I’m thinking about it, I probably saw a list of scheduled shows when I was at the concert that night.)

Later that week, Ted calls me at work. He sounds very serious. He says, “Uh, hey, I have some bad news.” He pauses. “Chippy came up and I took him to look at the house and he didn’t like it.”

And I was like, “What???”

This sent me into a panic — my office started spinning. We had just signed a lease on a house for $2,000 a month, which was way more than I could afford by myself, and I put my $2,000 down for the security deposit, and I did not know what it meant that Chip was saying he didn’t like the house.

“What do you mean he doesn’t like it?” I said. “He doesn’t like the location?”

“No,” Ted said. “He doesn’t like the house.”

And this was completely not making sense to me because the house was great, there was no way we could find a better house than that. I’m like how can he not like the house?

I think Ted could feel my panic so he let me off the hook early. He says, “Oh, I’m just kidding. Chip loved it.”

And I start to breathe again but now I want to kill Ted. I was like Oh my god, I hate you. And I may have said that. And then the next thing that comes out of my mouth is, “And it wasn’t Hank Ketchum at Wolf Trap either.” (As if this mattered at all at this point, I have no idea why I brought this up.)

I can tell that Ted is laughing on the other end of the line but he plays it straight. He doubles down, he says, “Yes it was.”

I say, “No it wasn’t. It was Hal Ketchum.”

Ted says, “Oh. Well Hank Ketchum opened.”

Half Full, Half Empty

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

I was cleaning up some files on my computer the other day and ran across a message I wrote to a friend in spring 2015 describing the origin and context of what my law professor had dubbed The Currie Rule.

(I was in an accounting program, but I took all of the business law classes that were offered. Which was totally a good call, understanding basic legal concepts at this point in my life is completely useful.)

I’m posting a slightly reworked version of the message here because I think it is funny that this became a thing in class, and also I think that it is an oddly accurate representation of my world view.

That glass may look half-full now, but someday it will be empty.

****

So my law classes are taught Socratic method — professor asks question, student answers, general discussion ensues. Back and forth, questions and answers.

I talk some in class, but I try to not talk too much. If other people are willing to give answers, then they can just go ahead. Sometimes in the law classes I end up talking because the 24-year-olds can be so dumb, they just have no common sense. So a lot of times when I talk it’s to say something completely obvious that no one else seems to be able to think of. My professor appreciates that about me. (In the Mod One class I had with her, she told me I was “exceptional.” Yay, me.)

I don’t remember exactly how this came up, but it was in the partnership class during Mod Two, we were talking about getting everything written into the partnership agreement in the beginning, making sure everything is figured out up front, including how losses will be handled.

The professor asks why you want to do this in the beginning. Why do want to go through all of this detail from the start, talk about both profits and losses?

Some bright young thing gives a narrowly correct answer — something like because you need to file the paperwork in the beginning. Professor says, “Yes, that’s true … what else?” Another 24-year-old with another technically correct but incomplete answer, “Yes … what else?”

Sometimes this goes on for a while. I don’t remember how long it went in this case, but eventually I decide that the 24-year-olds aren’t going to come up with the answer. I raise my hand. Professor sees my hand and calls on me, “Yes, Ms Currie?”

I say, “Because in the beginning, no one ever thinks anything is going to go wrong. No one starts a business to lose money. And then once you’re losing money, you don’t want to have to figure out what to do. Things are already a mess and then it just turns into a bigger mess.”

She said, “That’s exactly right.”

So then for the rest of the year in her classes, any time the answer had to do with things going south and people losing money, she would call on me.

“Why is this, Ms Currie?” she’d say.

And I’d say, “Because no one ever thinks they’re going to lose money.”

She called it The Currie Rule.

In the ethics class that she taught in Mod Three, we had a class on sexual harassment. I was in the day’s second session. When I walked in to the classroom, she saw me and said, “Oh, there you are Ms Currie! I was looking for you in the earlier class.”

She said they were talking about office romances. She said she was looking for me to invoke The Currie Rule. All I could think of was about losing money, I was confused about how that related to an office romance.

She said, “No one ever thinks they’re going to break up.”

I said, “Oh yeah, that too.”

I’m working at The Scrap Exchange these days, and studying for CPA exams (which I am taking for somewhat obscure reasons, and which I am hoping very much will be over soon) and that is pretty much all I’m doing. And it’s mostly good, I get to ride my bike to work and I get to wear whatever I want and every day is different. Which seems like about all I can hope for at this point in my life.

We got some funding from Duke through their Doing Good in the Neighborhood program (which we used to rent kudzu-eating goats to clear out some land so we can use it as a garden) and through that hooked up with the DukeEngage program, which has a program that places Duke undergraduates at nonprofits in Durham, North Carolina for six weeks and then moves them to internships in Durham, England for the second half of the summer.

Our intern is really great, I’m not sure what she expected from her summer internship but she has been game for everything we’ve thrown at her. Including goats.

She doesn’t have a car, and we’re pretty close to campus, but it’s a hilly walk and it’s hot here in the summer. She tried Uber but said the economics of Uber to and from work every day are not great. Ann had a bike in her office that came from one of our neighborhood guys who’s a bike guy, he’s always buying bikes and fixing them up and trying to sell them to us. Every now and then Ann will buy one.

So she gave the bike to Anahita to use, and we got her a helmet, and I tried to get the seat raised up so the bike would fit a little better. And that’s how she’s getting to and from work, on one of Robert’s bikes.

Last week, she asked me, “Where can I get denim?”

She said she wanted to make a denim skirt, she liked them and wanted one, but there was something she didn’t like about the ones in the stores. (I don’t remember what she didn’t like about them, but it was something fairly simple.) She said she was going to come to community sewing to see if she could make a denim skirt that she liked.

I suggested a thrift store (or our Pop Up Thrift backstock) and started to tell her where the nearest thrift store is but then remembered that she doesn’t have a car. It’s not that far, but it’s not a great bike ride. Robert (the bike guy) had given Ann a bag of jeans a few weeks ago (it’s the Robert economy, he’s always bringing us random stuff, jeans or cocktail sauce or whatever he ends up with that he thinks might have some value that he can trade for something else) and I had taken one pair that I thought might fit but then I never tried them on. They were sitting on the floor next to my chair. I reached down and picked them up and handed them to her. I said, “Here’s a pair of jeans, you can use these.”

Anahita said, “This place is amazing! Anything you ask for, here it is.”

True that.

On Friday I was talking to her about her schedule, how long is she in England and when does she start school again and does she have time for anything in between. She said she has three weeks after the England internship and she’s going back to stay with her parents. She said, “Back to where it all started.” But then she corrected herself and said that she had to go somewhere she’s never been before, because her parents just moved from Dubai to Qatar. So she’s going to see them in Qatar.

So we talked about moving around and being from different places. She said in Dubai, everyone is from somewhere else so it’s easy, when someone says asks where you’re from they mean where is your family from. Her parents are from India, and she says when she has to give a “permanent” address, she uses her grandfather’s address in India, but if she has to say how long she’s lived at her permanent address, she has to write “zero years.” She said sometimes it’s hard to fill out applications, they can be very confusing.

I told her that I had a similar situation when I left for college (not, however, involving Dubai) — my father was transferred for work from the Buffalo office of his firm to the Kansas City office. So my address on school things was Lake Quivira, Kansas, but I had never been there. People would ask me if I knew this person or that person from Kansas City, and I was like no, I’ve never actually been to Kansas. And they’re like but doesn’t this say you’re from Kansas? So that was complicated for a little while.

And I told her that during my junior year, my parents moved back to Western New York, to the same town we’d been living in before (Orchard Park), in a house on the same street (and built by the same builder — it was like a weird parallel universe experience, all these things that were almost but not quite the same as the house I had grown up in).

And then I tried to tell her about how after my parents moved back, and my brother was visiting after graduating from college, he started getting phone calls at our old phone number, and after the third or fourth call for Dan Currie, the owner of the phone number pulled out the local Boy Scout produced phone book, Who’s Who in Orchard Park, and looked up the number for Currie so they could give my brother’s new number to all of the people calling him at his old number.

And it did not occur to me when I started telling this anecdote how hopelessly confusing it would be for a 20 year-old from Dubai.

I kept seeing this blank quizzical look on her face so I had to try to backtrack through it to explain things, like the concept of the PHONE BOOK.

See there was this book that everyone had that had phone numbers in it, and if you wanted to call someone, you would look up their name, the book was in alphabetical order, so for Currie, you’d go to the Cs then work your way to the Cu’s and look through until you got to Currie and there would be the number.

She was like “Wow … a book? With names … and … numbers?? That’s so … interesting.”

I’m not sure if she even believed me.

Also later I realized that the concept of a phone number that goes with a house, not a person, might not have made sense to her either. Not sure what the landline situation is in Dubai.

After that conversation finished we were talking about her plans for the weekend, she was heading to Asheville with some friends in the program and I asked if she was going to be there for the holiday. She said she was. And then she said, “What is Fourth of July? What is this holiday?”

So I started to explain about the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War, which of course I couldn’t remember any of the details properly and I recited what I meant to be the Declaration of Independence but by the time I got to the end I realized that it was the preamble to the Constitution, which I only know because of Schoolhouse Rock. So then I had to explain Schoolhouse Rock to her (and Saturday cartoons — see there were only three channels, and cartoons were only on Saturdays, just one day a week, that was the only time you could watch them…). And then we went to YouTube and watched the Declaration of Independence Schoolhouse Rock video.

And then she left for the weekend.

She is learning so much at her internship. I hope she appreciates it.

On Jobs

Thursday, March 26, 2015

I grew up reading the newspaper — and I am old enough to remember a time when there was not one but two newspapers a day, one delivered in the morning and one in the afternoon — and the printed newspaper remains my preferred source of news.

As far as I’m concerned, the printed newspaper is a superior product.

It shows up on your doorstep every day. It doesn’t have pop-up ads. It doesn’t keep track of which articles you read. It doesn’t require electricity. You can let it sit for three days and when you finally get around to it, you can see what you missed, the news it presents will still be the same.

And it also has additional uses as a physical product — you can use it as a packing material or worm bin bedding or to start a fire in your woodstove.

But the main reasons I like it are because (a) it is finite and (b) someone else has done the work of deciding what to include.

So that means I can review and read what interests me and skim the rest and be done. I’m not in danger of getting sucked into clicking on the next thing the next thing the next thing. I just read what’s there. And then I read the comics. And then I put it in the recycle bin.

Done.

Another benefit is that sometimes you come across things that you probably would not have seen if someone hadn’t put them in the newspaper for you.

In 2012, I was reading the paper and came across an article about a woman who had gone missing three years earlier and whose husband was trying to find her, or to find out any information about her disappearance. It was kind of a weird story.

The article reported that the husband said that his wife’s “preferred occupation is stripping.”

“She used to say she could drink, get her exercise in and work all at the same time,” he said. “She thought it was a very efficient use of her time.”

And I don’t know what it was about that, the story overall was strange and sad, but I just thought that quote was so funny.

I told my friend Ann about it and we have been laughing about it ever since. We’re like okay what is your stripper job — the thing you get paid for that also accomplishes other goals at the same time. It’s like the holy grail of job seeking.

The Stripper Job.

And there’s really no point to this post other than to send the idea of the stripper job out into the world, and to get the thankfully outdated snow picture off the top of the page.

Hope all is well with everyone in readerland.

School done in 34 days.

20 x 20

Monday, February 14, 2011

Anyone who has ever actually heard me tell a story knows that it often takes me at least six minutes to get the part where I say what the story is about, so you can just imagine the challenge of putting together a Pecha Kucha presentation on the Dollar a Day Project — twenty slides, twenty seconds per slide, for a total presentation time of six minutes and forty seconds.

That’s hard!

I was not swayed by the tight timing and decided to begin at the beginning, with my adventures in indentured servitude at my first job out of college in Princeton, New Jersey.

I didn’t have a script at all, I was thinking I’d use the slides as my guide, with each slide representing a key point, and the change of slide would trigger the change of topic. So deciding on the point of each slide was really important, and I spent nearly eight hours getting things ready for a six-minute presentation. Holy cow.

It seemed like things were in good shape, but a couple of hours before the presentation I started to get nervous and decided I needed to go through it all in my head to make sure I knew what I was saying and that I’d be able to do it all in the time allotted. So I went over everything a bunch of times trying to make sure I got to the point for each slide and everything would work — and I was in a coffee shop with free refills, so I was totally wired by the time it was all figured out — and once the presentation started I just took a deep breath and went straight through and got to the end and was like okay I have no idea what I just said. I’m going to have to watch the video.

And I don’t know when the video came out, but someone last week told me they saw me on YouTube, so I looked it up and watched it and I think it’s hilarious.

You couldn’t see the slides very well even in the live presentation — I tried to use the same color scheme as on the blog but the green is too light — and also the lighting in the video isn’t great (it was in a bar), so I’ll include a PDF of the slides and will point out a few additional things here:

(1) the graph on slide three is in fact actual data about my food purchases that I tracked in Quicken and now have in a Filemaker database. It is not a fake graph just for show.

(2) the points on the Google map are the actual stores I shopped at — and I don’t remember exactly how I put together that map and it seemed like it shouldn’t have been a problem but it was a big pain.

(3) everything I said is true, which is why I think it’s funny. Especially things like saying that reading How to Cook a Wolf made me glad that I was poor so I could be like M.F.K. Fisher. True! Sad, but true.

The other funny thing is that I had never put together a Power Point presentation before, this was my very first one. I’m a big fan of Edward Tufte, and like very much his essay on the The Cognitive Style of Power Point, and I love more than anything Peter Norvig’s fabulous parody Gettysburg Address as PowerPoint presentation. (I especially love the graph of how many nations there were 87 years ago and how many there are now, but the whole thing is brilliant.) So previously I just had experience with people making fun of PowerPoint, now I’ve actually used it. That’s progress, I think.

The presentation was on December 16 and I knew it was videotaped but didn’t follow up on finding the link. But since I heard it was up, I managed to watch it when I was visiting a friend last week. (For anyone who has ever sent me a video to watch and it took me two months to get to it, don’t be offended, it takes me two months for me to get to videos of myself that I actually want to watch.)

So, without further ado (it probably took more than six minutes to read this post), here’s the video.

And anyone in the area should come out for the next Pecha Kucha Night Raleigh, which is being held on March 9 at Noir in the Glenwood South area of Raleigh (the same location the December one was held, where the video was shot).

Peanut Butter Cookies, Part I

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Mystical Cookie

The Mystical Cookie

My parents lived outside of Kansas City for a few years when I was in college, and my mom wasn’t so excited about moving there, but while she was there she learned how to make baskets (which she’s been doing for 20+ years now), and she learned how to make the best cookies in the history of the world. So it all turned out okay in the end.

The first time I flew out there to visit, we were driving home from the airport and my dad said, “Your mother has the best new cookie recipe … two Ritz crackers with peanut butter, covered in chocolate.” I thought they sounded okay, but not earth shaking.

Boy was I wrong.

These are the best cookies you have ever had. (If you like peanut butter and chocolate, that is–my brother doesn’t care much for chocolate, and my friend Ann doesn’t like peanut butter in cookies, so both of them are more or less indifferent to these. I know, those of you who’ve had them are shocked, but it’s true. Some people don’t love these cookies.)

There are people who have had these cookies once and, I am convinced, have remained friends with me for years simply in the hopes that they will one day get another one.

My mom would send them to me in college, and we started calling them the Mystical Cookies, because they’re so much better than you’d think they’d be if you just heard what’s in them. She sent them to me at the office when I worked in Princeton, and then I think she might have sent some to my boss after I left, because everyone was so sad they’d never get them again. I went back for a visit maybe five years after I’d left and was talking to someone I’d worked with and someone who had started working a year or two after I was gone. Trudy said, “How’s your mom? Does she still make those cookies?” And Sabrina said, “Oh! You’re the one whose mom makes the cookies!”

It’s nice to be famous for something.

I was visiting my folks last week and brought a few home with me, though I don’t think I managed to do justice to them in the picture. (I wanted to show the inside, so you can see how much peanut butter is in one, but none of the shots worked all that well.)

They’re not hard to make, but you need to get candy-coating chocolate. My mom uses Merckens chocolate wafers, which she gets in the bulk bins at Wegmans. There are light and dark versions, but I like a combination of the two (I think the light is too sweet, and the dark is not sweet enough). In Kansas, she used almond bark for the coating, but I don’t know if that’s available everywhere. I think you could also make chocolate coating out of chocolate chips (or possibly any chocolate?) by melting and adding vegetable oil or shortening. There’s also a recipe for chocolate candy coating in an old version of Joy of Cooking that calls for chocolate plus butter and paraffin (!). Haven’t tried that one. I think whatever chocolate you can get that will melt without separating and harden when cool would work.

For such a simple recipe, it feels sort of complicated to explain. On graduation weekend at college, my friend Debbie was talking to my mom. She said, “Oh! I have to get the recipe for those cookies! What kind of chocolate do you use?”

My mom goes into this very long explanation of almond bark and Kansas and Merckens wafers and Wegmans and candy coating and chocolate chips and vegetable oil. When she’s done, Debbie says, “So… if I want these cookies, I should just call and say, ‘Mrs. Currie, please send cookies.'”

And my mom says, “Well, yes, that would probably work best.”

So that’s what I usually do. Sadly, you’re all on your own, so here’s a recipe (such as it is).

[And please note, these are not healthy at all. At all. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.]

Peanut Butter-Ritz Cracker Cookies
(a.k.a. The Mystical Cookies)

  • Ritz or Hi-Ho crackers
  • Jif peanut butter (I haven’t tried healthy peanut butter; I suspect it wouldn’t be nearly as good)
  • Chocolate candy coating

Make the cracker and peanut butter sandwiches, using more peanut butter than you think you need. (I don’t think I’ve ever had one with too much peanut butter, but I’ve definitely made them with not enough.) Place on a sheet of waxed paper or plastic wrap on the counter or table.

Melt the chocolate. You can do it in a double boiler, but it works much better to use the microwave, because the chocolate gets hotter, stays hotter, and melts better. I don’t have a microwave, so when I make these, I usually go to someone else’s house.

Drop the sandwiches, one at a time, into the bowl of melted chocolate and, using a fork, stir around to coat thickly.

Remove the sandwich from the bowl of chocolate and place on the plastic wrap/waxed paper to cool.

When the coating is set, you can put in a tin or plastic bag. I think they taste best frozen, so I just keep the bag in the freezer and eat from there.

And I actually intended to write a completely different post about another peanut butter cookie recipe, but this is the post that came out, and now I need to go get some work done, so I’ll put the other recipe up later in the week.