Friday, March 26, 2010

Upcoming travel

I'm trying to get to NY next month. Princess has never been, and I haven't for more than five years. I can feel forces coming together to make it possible. I BELIEVE.

Brooklyn Bridge New York circa 1905

Friday, March 19, 2010


The Maine Boatbuliders Show is produced by Portland Yacht Services and will take place at the Portland Company building at 58 Fore Street. via

I'm so glad that the Portland Company has a diverse series of events. It's so exciting for them and for boat-and-flower-show-attending people. It's kind of a pain in the ass for people who live in the neighborhood, though.

To be fair, event planners do seem to make an attempt to minimize the impact... by putting NO PARKING signs on all of the streets around the Portland Company (including my own). But what that means is that hill dwellers are banned from parking on their street, and people unfamiliar to the neighborhood get creative with their parking and create dangerous situations, obstructing lanes and sightlines... and, judging by the number of cars parked illegally on Fore Street during the flower show last weekend, the City seems unwilling to tow or ticket.

On the plus side, maybe I'll get the chance to have some presumptuous boat-show-goer towed when they park in my parking spot. We have to look for the little joys, no?

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

RE: Love of Brett Michaels

There aren't words to describe my love of Slaughterhouse 90210:

“Like a whorehouse on wheels, she thought. Like a whorehouse on wheels.”
—Robert Goolrick, A Reliable Wife"


Monday, March 08, 2010

Why A Salad Costs More Than A Big Mac

RE: my earlier post and buying for value. Thx, bec.

How to Be Poor

I will write about the wedding, I promise... but something else is more on my mind for now.

Some background: while I was a student I applied for MaineCare for my daughter. I've been working full time for just over a year now, and at the end of December our transitional year of MaineCare health insurance ended. This meant that I would add the tween to my work health insurance.

Unfortunately this happened at the same time as a huge increase in insurance rates, so I am feeling the pinch. The increase in the cost of my own coverage plus the adding the tween's is costing me an additional $350 a month--and the insurance doesn't cover as much as I wish it did, leaving me with a growing number of medical bills.

This is a big hit for our family, and it comes in a year when we have a couple of major expenses coming up: the tween's trip to Japan in July, and the wedding in September. Forget tightening the belt--this is a heavy-duty corset situation.

So I polished up some of my college-era poverty survival skills, and after a few months of (painful!) transition I think I'm finally getting used to this much smaller budget.

I thought I'd share some of the tips I'm re-learning, in case the economic recovery isn't happening for you yet either.

1. Make everything do double-duty
Being thrifty means also being thrifty with my time.
  • When I cook I make extra so that it can also be work lunches for the week.

  • While shopping, I try to buy food in containers (glass jars, closable plastic containers) that I can reuse instead of buying disposable tupperware. I also keep a ceramic bowl and cup at my work desk because I don't like to reheat food in plastic.

  • Food waste becomes nutrients for my garden in my backyard composting bin, so I don't have to buy expensive fertilizer and trash bags.

  • The slow-cooker works at cooking food while I'm working at my job. This is the only way I've been able to use inexpensive and nutritious food like dried beans.

2. Buy for value
I don't always buy things that are cheap. Sometimes the cost of cheap things can actually be higher.

  • Nutrition: Twinkies and snack foods can be inexpensive, but they're not very nourishing--causing poorer health. Less processed=better, and I buy snack foods only at discount stores like Marden's and Big Lots.

  • Longevity: will it break right away (i.e., is it cheaply made)? Will it cause long-term consequences (as poorly fitting shoes or dollar-store medicines might)?

  • Landfills: It's hard to think about sometimes, but I try to minimize the amount of waste that I create, because cleaning up the environment is going to be HELLA expensive in the long run. This just means simple things like using waxed paper or reusable containers instead of plastic bags.

3. Wants vs Needs
I'd gotten pretty comfortable over the past year being able to have all of my needs met--and some of my wants too. In fact, some of the wants started to feel like needs. I had to reconsider my casual spending habits (movie rentals, eating at restaurants, drinking at bars, convenience foods, spending to enjoy entertainment).

Instead I've been considering ways to get some of my wants met for free or cheap, so that I'm only spending money on things that I need (like food, shelter, etc.). I do this by:
borrowing movies and books from the library
  • buying used whenever possible
  • borrowing things like tools and machines instead of buying my own
  • going on cheap dates, like the First Friday Artwalk (if you time it right you can get free wine AND snacks too!) and cheap night/matinees at the movies
  • volunteering as entertainment
  • avoiding restaurants
Some things tread the line between want and need, like my car, work clothes, and social time. I try to minimize spending on these.

4. Carry it with you
Convenience spending is one of my biggest budgetary downfalls. So I try to carry snacks and water with me--so that I'm not caught spending money on things that I could get for free or cheap at home.

The hardest part about all of this is having to think about everything all the time. Everything takes planning, and it's exhausting at first. For someone like me, whose brain runs a lot like an obsessed hamster in an exercise wheel, this is especially hard. I have to be careful not to be to rough on myself and to forgive small expenditures. Sometimes a cup of coffee with a friend means the difference between feeling sane and not, and that's value--and worth it.

And once this stuff becomes habit, it's a lot easier. I just need to keep reminding myself of that.

UPDATE 4/9: After I read the great comments below, I feel like I forgot to say a couple of things... like, that the tips above ONLY help me deal with what used to be my discretionary spending.

To deal with other expenses, I eliminated everything even remotely optional. I canceled cable and netflix, lowered my credit card payment to $20 over the minimum, and cut the amount I put into savings in half. I'm trying to get my student loan payment lowered, and April looks like the month I'm going to start being carless. I might cancel my cell phone (the cancellation fee is heinous, but it's equal to about three months' payment, and I still have over a year left in the contract). Once you get poor, it's amazing how possible certain lifestyle changes look.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Vonnegut on the barbarous technocracy of writing

Kurt Vonnegut is a nut. And I love him.

...So much of what happens in storytelling is mechanical, has to do with the technical problems of how to make a story work. Cowboy stories and policeman stories end in shoot-outs, for example, because shoot-outs are the most reliable mechanisms for making such stories end. There is nothing like death to say what is always such an artificial thing to say: The end. I try to keep deep love out of my stories because, once that particular subject comes up, it is almost impossible to talk about anything else. Readers don't want to hear about anything else. They go gaga about love. If a lover in a story wins his true love, that's the end of the tale, even if World War III is about to begin, and the sky is black with flying saucers.

So you keep love out.

I have other things I want to talk about. Ralph Ellison did the same thing in Invisible Man. If the hero in that magnificent book had found somebody worth loving, somebody who was crazy about him, that would have been the end of the story. CĂ©line did the same thing inJourney to the End of Night: he excluded the possibility of true and final love—so that the story could go on and on and on.

Not many writers talk about the mechanics of stories.

I am such a barbarous technocrat that I believe they can be tinkered with like Model T Fords.

To what end?

To give the reader pleasure.


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