Friday, September 28, 2012

On links and savings

In other news, I’m really struggling with my budget lately. This past month, I ended up buying several slightly pricier things that I could have lived without. Does the dress look amazing on me? Yes, but I already have a purple dress that I haven’t gotten to wear out yet. One date that ended early doesn’t count (and there was no photographic evidence). Now I have two. I think I have been too restrictive on myself, otherwise I might have been able to pass up some of these purchases. I don’t need to play two different video games at the same time, I could’ve waited to buy Borderlands 2!

I’ve been tracking my spending since November of 2011, using my online bank statements to recording incoming and outgoing transactions on my checking account. My tattoo was a costly (but worthy) investment, and other than that, I haven’t spent much money on myself outside of essentials this year so far. It’s starting to wear on me, honestly. There are so many things that I would like to have, would make my life easier to have, and some things that I just think are amazing, but totally not essential, but I am tied down to some really boring and frustrating financial obligations. I am making all my regular student loan payments, but have not been able to pay any extra towards any of them. I had hoped to pay off the smallest loan this year, but unless the end of year bonus is really good and I don’t need it for anything else, that’s looking unlikely. The biggest $ suck has been saving up for oil to heat the apartment this winter. We are starting to move into cooler temperature ranges and I will have to get the tank filled soon. Goodbye, savings. I know continuing to save this winter is going to be a struggle.

I’ve already planned out a couple of Christmas gifts. I’m only going to do things for the boyfriend and my little brother (whom I already have a gift for, just needs some embellishment).

I think I need to come up with a way to feel less restricted about my tight budget. Smallish treats that are very separate from things that I need (food stuff, for example, would be too much like an essential purchase, but a fiction book would be good) might be a good way to break things up a little. One book a month seems pretty meager, but it’s somewhere to start. I welcome any suggestions to make this whole endeavor feel less daunting.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

I’d like to say goodbye to a complicated mind

Blog note: If you look back in older entries, you  might notice that the comments all appear as though they were made by me! This is not the case, but Blogger made it look that way when I removed the Disqus application. I had been using it so I could respond to comments, but now that Blogger has that function, I’ve gotten rid of Disqus. It looks much nicer in the comment area, I think, but sucks that I lost a history of who was commenting on my blog.

The boyfriend and I had a chat the other day about how the rest of the world perceives Americans. Apparently, most everybody else thinks we’re pretty crazy, for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is that we work way too much.

I don’t know what it’s like in other countries, or even just other areas in this country, but growing up, I was instilled with the idea that the whole point of going to school is to get a job and work until retirement. Nobody ever really explained how to have a life beyond school and it was something I really struggled with. I think it’s part of the reason why I ended up abandoning a lot of schoolwork in high school, and feeling incredibly left out in college when I couldn’t pick a major. Everybody kept telling me that nobody knew what they wanted to major in, that I’d figure it out, but this is not what I’d been taught. I believed that there would be an “aha!” moment, where I suddenly knew what the right career path would be. Just like falling in love and suddenly knowing in your gut that “this is the one.” It’s all crap. Do other countries believe this, or is it the Disney effect?

I think part of the American work ethic stems from our countries roots: we are and always have been mostly laborers (though that’s shifted to the white-collar middle-class in terms of population count nowadays). Most of the people who came here had nothing, we were mostly a nation of immigrants, so it makes sense that everybody worked their asses to the bone to get by and make a life for their families. That is the American Dream, to have the opportunity to work hard and make something of yourself.

What does that even mean, to make something of yourself? People talk about wanting to leave an impact on the world and it seems like such a ridiculous concept when you stop to think about it. As a singular person, it is very unlikely that many people will know your name unless you’re selling something (that applies to politicians, too). I think people just want to be appreciated, and there are much easier ways to become appreciated. You don’t have to invent the next sliced bread to have an impact. For me, making an impact is all about talking about my interests (hence this ridiculous blog).

Part of my unrest this year has been this unspoken struggle with “working” and “having a life”. I’m still trying to figure it out, but lately I feel like I’ve had some kind of breakthrough. I can’t really identify it, but I’m starting to feel like I can actually enjoy my time off and not just see it as a break until I go back to work in the morning. I hope that eventually, I can shift my identity to a hobbyist that works, instead of a Help Desk Specialist with hobbies.

Monday, September 24, 2012

J'suis là pour ça

Autumn is officially here, and there’s no question about it. Everyday, I see more leaves on the ground. The view from my cubicle at work shows the slow conversion of trees to Fall foliage. I’m hoping the trees around my apartment start to turn soon so I can get a good photo to use as a background for the blog. Mornings and nights have started getting pretty cold. I think it would down to 43F this morning! I am going to have to get warmer gloves so my poor fingers don’t freeze on the scoot to work.

There are several things I hope to accomplish this Fall, and I already feel like I’m running out of time.

My grandfather, helping press apples for apple cider, 1992

  • Go apple picking – Apples came early this year, so I need to go sooner rather than later. Apparently, McIntosh apples (which are GREAT for applesauce) come later in the season, so now would be perfect for me to get some. I’m worried that I won’t be able to go before all the apples are gone!
  • Get up to Maine – I really want to visit my grandmother, as well as raid her canning supplies. She used to make applesauce, sweet pears, and all kinds of “canned” stuff. When I made my own applesauce, it immediately made me think of hers, with no added sugar, just all about the spice and natural flavor of the apples. I have no doubts that she still has jars I could use, and the tongs/pot/wire rack required to properly handle and treat the jars.
  • Dress up for Hallowe’en – This is happening, no matter what, but I’m having a hard time coming up with a creative, yet affordable, costume to make.
  • Go to King Richard’s Faire – If only to experience the delicious turkey legs. It would be fun to play some of the games (toss Ninja stars, throw throwing axes) as well. Too bad I can’t have beer right now (anti-yeast diet), otherwise I’d get a yard of ale again :)

King Richard's Faire, 2010

And everything that gets in the way is: money!

Okay, and a car that can’t make long trips right now. Boo.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Life operates in lists

Sometimes I feel that there is too much going on in my head, and it’s easier for me to get about my day if I write down some of the things I’m thinking about, so I can stop thinking about them! Run-on sentence, FTW (for the win).

  • I’ve loved moccasins for a long time. I want to make some! It looks simple enough, and there are so many different styles/methods that you can do. I think I will try making some slippers out of scrap fabric soon and see how it goes. I can use those as a template if I ever get some leather/suede to make real moccasins. They would be awesome to keep at work, so I can have some good quality minimalist shoes.
  • I also really want to buy mukluks someday.
  • I have an idea for Mark’s Daily Apple’s video recipe contest, but it requires constructing my own helmet camera! I am not sure if my brother or mom would be willing to lend me their camera for such an experiment, or if I’d get around to putting the video together. I'd rather edit it in iMovie, which means borrowing my mom’s computer, too, and I am very slow at video editing.
  • I intend to make two batches of yogurt this week (one for splitting between parents and godfather, the other for me), and will use two different types of milk (local organic, and the cream top stuff). I’m curious to see if they taste different, side by side.
  • If I don't bike tonight, I think I will put a streak of Fishbowl blue in my hair somewhere (I think I still have some), just to see what happens to it when put over pink. I am probably wearing purple to my friend’s wedding next month, so purple hair would probably look weird, but I am thinking that the season for pink has just about passed by now. My hair is getting close to my first goal length, which was jaw-length. I should be there by the end of the year, if I don’t get the front trimmed at all. By Spring, it should be chin-length. I’m not sure what I want to do with it after that!

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

For the future of applesauce

  • Awesome, awesome, awesome body image post – Full of even more links! There may be some links that are rather women-specific, but the message is the same for anyone: learn your value outside of the number on the scale.

I made applesauce last night. I peeled and chopped up on McIntosh and one Gala apple, tossed them in a pot, and added less than 1” of water (ended up being too much, but it cooked off easily since my pot lid doesn’t fit tightly). I cooked it on fairly high heat until it got to bubbling, then lowered to medium heat for about 10 minutes, with the occasional mash/stir with a plastic whisk. I sprinkled on some pumpkin pie spice when the consistency seemed good, burnt my tongue thoroughly, and enjoyed the hell out of it on some homemade yogurt.

Warm applesauce and cool yogurt. So good.

The applesauce is chunky and naturally sweet, just how I like it. It tasted just like how I remember Baba’s tasted when I was little.

Yeah, so I’m nearly out of yogurt again :). Looks like a trip to Whole Foods is in order soon!

I’m hoping to get up to Baba’s house in Maine soon, maybe this weekend, so I can steal her canning supplies.

Monday, September 10, 2012

International Suicide Prevention Day

Please boost this in whatever social media network you prefer.

Take 5 to Save Lives

World Suicide Prevention Day (Facebook Event)

World Suicide Prevention Day (main page, has been down for me all day though)

To Write Lover On Her Arms – National Suicide Prevention Week

Hallowe’en prep

I guess I’ll keep our costume plans under wraps, but I’ll still mention what we need:

  • Boyfriend needs a tan trench coat and a blue suit. I’m hoping that I can find time to go thrifting and find some that fit decently or can be altered without too much difficulty. There is some easy embellishment I can do to the costume to make it more clear who his character is.
  • If this is going to be a couple costume, there are some simple pieces I need to get, that can also be thrifted (and probably found more easily). The problem is the hair: it’s supposed to be long and dark red. I don’t want to dye it, and I’m not really keen on spending a lot of money on a long red wig either.

They’re not really scary costumes, not unless you know more about what they’re from, but they should be easy enough.

Two Hallowe’ens ago, we were Doctor Horrible and Captain Hammer:

Punching evil in the face

Last year, we didn’t really plan costumes together, but I looked pretty cool as a Superman-villain-whose-name-I-can-never-remember:

Originated from Superman - The Animated Series

In other news, the party supply store just down the street from my work probably has more Hallowe’en stuff out now and I am definitely going to poke around during my lunch break today.

I am also highly anticipating the arrival of some very cool mugs.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Measuring health

After reading Paleo On a Budget’s post about using a scale to help track and measure health goals, I got to thinking about my goals, and how I measure “health.”

This has not been a terribly healthy year for me. I think I’ve been healthier, mentally and physically, than in past years, but I’ve spent a lot of time going back and forth from the doctors,  trying different tests, trying to define what is “wrong” with me. More recently, I’ve had some serious digestive issues that are embarrassing, uncomfortable, and disruptive. I haven’t been sleeping well, possibly because of that. Maybe it’s “just” the stress. It got me thinking about what it would mean to me to be healthy. What would it take for me to feel that that is an accurate descriptor of myself?

Health to me means

  • Happiness
  • Fitness
  • Function

Happiness

As someone who has struggled with anxiety and depression for a long time, feeling happy is my #1 concern. I have had GREAT improvements in this area of my life over the past year! I’ve found that it’s so much easier to laugh at things that amuse me. Before, I still found things funny, but it rarely made me laugh. My favorite TV shows will actually have me cracking up now. It’s a really great feeling. My anxiety is also greatly reduced to the ponit that I am able to recognize anxiety-provoking situations and choose to barrel through them (usually finding that it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared) or avoid them, without feeling lost or unclear in my mind.

Fitness

Sticking to a fitness regimen has always been a struggle for me. I’m still struggling, but I am actually seeing changes in my body now, which is greatly motivating. I am also FEELING the changes, and not just from feeling sore after a workout (usually, the day after). The bag I use to cart my lunch & laptop to and from work while I ride my scooter is pretty heavy, then you add my laptop and charger cable… well, it doesn’t sound like much, and maybe it’s not, but it felt like it for a while. lately, I barely notice it on my back when I’m walking up and down the stairs before and after work, or when I’m riding the scooter. I don’t think I can express how relieving it is to really feel that I am getting stronger, after being a weakling for so long!

Function

This ties in with fitness, but the fact that I could walk a little ways with my boyfriend on my back without shaking legs means so much to me. Sure, it’s unlikely that I’d need to cart him around like that, but knowing I am functional enough to carry someone on my back, in case of emergency, for example, is really encouraging to me. If I need to be able to do something physical, I want to be able to do it without hesitation, within reason. I’m not going to be heaving a 80 lb server around anytime soon, mostly because it’s a terribly awkward shape, but being able to help someone install one on a rack without feeling wiped out, or maneuver it in without too much difficulty would be very handy.

Scales mean very little to me. At this point, I want to gain weight in muscle. I’m not worried about gaining body fat, since I’m on the lower end of a healthy range. As a woman, it would not be unhealthy for me to have a bit more body fat, to ensure my body is well prepared for bearing children someday. We’re not talking 50lbs of excess weight, just 10-20. As long as I can function, I don’t care if I end up curvy. I am glad that after not allowing myself to weigh in for a few months last year, I no longer feel any dependency on the # that the scale puts out. In the end, even my muscular weight is arbitrary, because 10 lbs of muscle may not mean being able to lift a 50 lb box, and that’s what I want to be able to do!

So I’m not healthy because I haven’t met my fitness goals? No, I’m not healthy because I’m still working some things out in my head, and I’m not as functional as I feel that I should be. My digestive system certainly isn’t at the moment! If it was, I would say I’m “pretty” healthy, but not all the way there. Maybe next year :)

Monday, September 03, 2012

Yogurt for the masses

A little over a week ago, I conducted my first yogurty experience and called it a success. After this weekend’s adventure, I call that one a complete flop, and this one… perfection. This method requires much more baby-sitting than the last, but I think I could make it work on a weekday evening, making the whole process about 24 hrs long.

Make sure you hover over the photos for alt-text!

Just a bit of raw, local honey

My method

Tools needed:

  • 2.5 tablespoons of plain yogurt (read the label! make sure it has LIVE ACTIVE CULTURES in the ingredients and no extra flavoring/ingredients)
  • 1/2 gallon of pasteurized (not ULTRA-pasturized) whole milk
  • Stock pot or a pot that can easily hold 1/2 gallon of liquid
  • Crock pot with removable insert
  • Candy thermometer (or a thermometer that can measure at least 100F to over 180F, since 180-185 is our max)
  • Bath towels
  • Water, refrigerator, sink with cool water, oven with working light

1. Fill crock pot with water and put it on the low or warm setting, if you have it. This is just to keep the liner warm.

2. Fill stock pot with 1/2 gallon of whole pasteurized milk, and put it over medium-low heat. If you keep the heat low, it doesn’t need stirring (to avoid burning the bottom).

Local milk, but not grass-fed like my last batch

3. Slowly warm the milk to 180F, watching your candy thermometer. I set my timer to 10 min increments and it took at least/about 50 minutes.

4. Once you reach max heat, remove the pot from heat and put it in the sink. I put it right over the drain and ran cold water behind the pot, to fill the sink (or, if you’re fancy, you could use a drain plug). It did not take long, maybe 15 minutes at most, to cool to 110F.

4.a. When the milk is cooling, put your oven on Warm.

SONY DSC

5. As soon as it gets to 110F, start dashing around the kitchen like a mad-person. Shut off the sink water, remove the thermometer, dump the water out of your crock pot liner, skim the milk skin off (ew, get as much as possible, otherwise it’ll end up in the yogurt and it’s all rubbery and weird) and pour theMilk skin = ew milk into the warm liner. Take a cup or two of the heated-then-cooled milk out and whisk in your starter yogurt (the 2 1/2 tablespoons set aside from the last batch or any plain yogurt from the grocery store – I used Chobani), then whisk all that back into the milk.

6. Turn the oven off, but turn the light on, put your crock pot liner in the oven with towels wrapped around it. I used two towels: one for around the sides and one for over the top. I left the oven (heated to around 150F on the Warm setting) open for a few minutes so it wouldn’t heat the milk back up and kill the starter cultures, then left it alone for 13 hours (the longer you wait, the tangier the result, you could leave it in there for up to 24 hrs as far as I know).Do not touch!

7. In the morning/after your decided time has passed, pull your baby out and give it a look!

SONY DSC

8. If it seems set and you like the taste/consistency, let it cool for at least a few hours in the fridge and then sort into containers.

Fresh out of the ovenTook a taste, see how it retains the shape?

The next morning, cooled for 8 hrs, the hole had filled with whey

9. If you’re going to make more after this (but of COURSE you are!), make sure to set aside 2-3 tablespoons of your yogurt to use as starter for the next batch.

10. Enjoy!

Holding shape quite nicely

Some for my parents, the rest for me!