Saturday, August 30, 2008
Friday, August 29, 2008
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Put yourself on a budget by eliminating life's little excesses. Rent a DVD for a couple of bucks instead of forking over the better part of $20 to gaze at a first-run flick while munching on pricey popcorn. Don't buy so many fancy designer outfits. Skip that expensive ski vacation, and check out the local museums instead. Take a brown bag lunch to work, and eat dinner at home. Stifle the urge to be the first one on your block to own a high-definition TV set. Stop smoking. Squirrel away all the money you don't waste on frivolities. You'll be astonished to see how quickly your savings grow.
Where, oh where to begin?
- We already do Netflix and don't have cable.
- Since we arrived in Texas, I believe we have purchased a total of nine movie theater tickets, although one or two movies may be slipping my mind.
- What is a "designer outfit"? Wouldn't it be more realistic to say: "Stop buying clothes except for replacements for worn-out or outgrown items."
- Expensive ski vacation?
- High-definition TV?
I did the drive to pick up C from school today, under my husband's supervision. I also drove Wednesday afternoon. It's going to be automatic eventually, but it's going to take a while.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
D was sniffly today and will be staying home from preschool tomorrow. C is starting to be sniffly, and would also like a sick day. We shall see.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
My husband has been downloading Librivox audiobooks to listen to in the car with the kids. We recently listened to The Story of Doctor Dolittle and The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. We also watched the 1967 film version, which draws (fairly successfully) from a variety of Dolittle books. There are a number of un-PC moments in the books and the books can be uneven and illogical (a man accused of murdering a friend in Mexico is inexplicably tried in Dolittle's Puddleby and the animal-loving doctor is frequently seen eating bacon), but the idea of a doctor who can speak the languages of the animals is really charming and the author (Hugh Lofting) does a lot with it. Voyages is probably the better book of the two. I like the episode where he proves to a judge that he can speak the language of dogs by chatting with the judge's dog and producing an exhaustive (and embarrassing) list of what the judge had for dinner the previous night. I also like the episode where Dolittle wrecks the bull-fighting industry on a Spanish-run island by colluding with the bulls.
Listening to books on tape during her commute takes some of the sting out of getting up early to go to school for C. Her current car book is Baum's Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz.
The drop-off and pick-up schedule is going to be a bit harder than I thought. There's about 85 minutes between the kids' drop-off times, so we'll make two runs. The pick-up times are about an hour apart, so I'll probably just hang out with D on a playground until C gets out of school. It's only two days a week, but I need to work on this to make sure that my husband doesn't lose too much time due to the staggered drop-offs.
Monday, August 25, 2008
The landlord's guys cleaned the gutters today, too. They say that the mesh covers were installed improperly, which is why the gutters have been trapping a lot of leaf crud. Once we are homeowners, this will all be our responsibility.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Friday, August 22, 2008
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Monday, August 18, 2008
We don't have a downpayment right now and I'm not yet a licensed driver, so all of these places are currently out of reach, but things are trending in the right direction. I expect that the ongoing Dutch auction will continue over the winter. It will be interesting to see when our budget and the housing market finally converge. Hopefully, we can hold onto our rental until we're in a position to buy a house.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
- Rod Dreher draws his line of demarcation between pre and post-WWII US houses. "If the Mississippi River rose in my hometown and washed away all the houses, aside from the human aspect of the loss, history would mourn only a small fraction of the structures lost in the disaster--and nothing built after 1945. How come?" I think Dreher's being a bit too hard on post-war houses. "Midcentury Modern" is awfully trendy these days, and there are a lot of people out there who see real beauty in ranch houses. In fact, there's a whole magazine called Atomic Ranch, featuring funky restored and reimagined ranch houses. I agree that the exteriors of ranch houses can be depressing, but a good ranch house will have a strong indoor-outdoor connection, excellent natural light, decent storage, and be moderately sized.
- While we may idolize the exteriors of classic American homes, all too often the interiors are dark, chopped up, and have no storage at all. Also, the design of one-of-a-kind houses can be really stupid. Our post-war rental, for instance, has two baths. One can only be accessed by walking through either of the kids' rooms. The other bath can be accessed either by walking through the master bedroom or the dining room. Cozy!
- As I mentioned earlier, being a crunchy con doesn't preserve you from being materialistic. You just wind up being materialistic about different stuff. Here's one of Dreher's interview subjects: "I'll have my house paid off before McMansion owners start making principal payments, and I have lots of resources for better things, like taking the grandkids out for Bohemian Weekend. Last year, we spent a weekend at the art museum, checking out the graffiti wall and eating weird food. You can't blow a hundred bucks on Indian food, lattes, and authentic Thai if you're worrying about making a $2,400 mortgage payment."
In other news, she's read enough books to collect a prize from the Barnes and Noble summer reading program. With all the different programs she's done this summer, she's made out like a bandit. In general, I'm very comfortable with incentives for unpleasant tasks (room cleaning) or for mastering new material (phonics, math facts), but I don't like non-book incentives for reading. There is a slippery slope, and it's easy to slide on it, especially during the summer. (C got a pool trip for finishing The Hobbit, and she was also required to read chapters to earn the right to play electronic games.)
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Later, at home, C and I had a difference of opinion over my store. C thinks that she and D should each contribute $3 to buy a $6 sticker book, and then the two of them will share it. I'm not going to allow this arrangement, believing that think that it would ultimately be unfair to D.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
It's funny how things work. When I was house-hunting in DC around 2006-7, $400k was the magic number. I was sure that we could manage that sort of mortgage. After we moved to Texas and I had studied local suburban developments, my number changed to $150-200k. However, now that I'm familiar with local geography and have been carefully doing a budget for most of the past year, I have come to several contradictory conclusions. 1) We should live close-in in a good neighborhood rather than far-out in a cheap newer subdivision. 2) We should have a mortgage of no more than $100,000 to allow for taxes, maintenance, higher utilities, and acts of God. 3) The cheapest house in that neighborhood that is anywhere near big enough for us (1700 sq. feet) is $180k.
What to do? As I said, there are a lot of stale listings in the neighborhood, there have already been price cuts, and a number of listings look like flips. As time goes by, house prices may continue to edge down while our downpayment fund grows. I think time is on our side, but this process is like watching paint dry.
C's attitude toward money and earning follows a predictable pattern. When she has no or very little money and her earning goal seems far away (for instance $8.50 to purchase a Disney Princess Color Wonder book), she wallows in the Slough of Despond and talks about how "hard" her math workbooks are or how hard it is to clean up the living room or her bedroom. However, once she has several dollars in her savings, she picks up momentum and buckles down, cleans rooms, and goes on a math workbook spree. She just spontaneously cleaned up the living room (earning one dollar) and she has $4.50 total. Her mood has definitely improved, and it would not surprise me at all if she were to earn the Princess book by either tonight or tomorrow morning. I'm curious when (if ever) she will start skipping the Slough of Despond phase of her earning and saving cycle.
Monday, August 11, 2008
Sunday, August 10, 2008
- I like Dreher's chapter on "Home" quite a lot. I'm an aspiring homeowner and have read a pile of books on architecture and design (especially Susanka's Not-So-Big books and other Taunton titles), and the chapter resonated with me. There's a neighborhood in our town with spectacular, well maintained early twentieth century homes where we might buy a house. I do wonder about lead paint, bad wiring, upkeep and the future of the neighborhood, though.
- Dreher talks about his conservative intellectual forebears (Chesterton and Tolkien) and his subtitle is "The New Conservative Counterculture and Its Return to Roots." I think that at least in that subtitle, he's overselling the newness of the phenomena he's describing. I'd argue that some crunchiness has always been almost unavoidable if you have limited means and a large family. You'd have to be ridiculously wealthy to raise a family of six kids in the style of the people on TV. Unsurprisingly, my first introduction to such perennial crunchy topics as breastfeeding, attachment parenting, homebirths, and midwives came via a Natural Family Planning newsletter and various Catholic publications. Amy Dacyczyn is yet another example of the nexus between crunchiness and large families. She's the mother of a bunch of kids and the author of The Complete Tightwad Gazette (1998), which is 900+ pages of advice for frugal living, much of it extremely crunchy.
- I haven't yet read many Amazon reviews of Crunchy Cons, but I believe some people doubt the existence of the phenomenon. I had the good luck to go hang out with some moms from my neighborhood while I was reading the book, and witnessed a conversation that ranged effortlessly between a comparison of different chastity education programs and the difficulties of obtaining affordable grass-fed beef. Yes, Virginia, there are crunchy conservatives.
- I'm sure a hundred people have made this observation already, but while Dreher mentions the evils of materialism fairly regularly, materialism isn't just triple cheese burgers, SUVs, and exurban McMansions. Speaking as a person with two dozen architecture and design books on my shelf, I'm pretty sure that materialism can take other forms. I think there is a large grey area. On the one hand, it's perfectly right and good to love and rejoice in the beautiful, whether food, drink, or house. On the other hand, at some point this enjoyment of the beautiful crosses over into acquisitiveness, gluttony, and selfishness, just as a Chestertonian embrace of simple pleasures can easily cross over into gross excess. I don't think Dreher ever discusses that dark side in Crunchy Cons, although I bet he's thought of it.
"Aunty Vida [a visitor] took another swallow of coffee, rinsed it around in her mouth as if it were an antiseptic, and said, "You have solved the problem of living! You have the answer to happiness! There are thousands of people in this bitter world who only hope some day to achieve by dint of hard work and sacrifice what you and bob have now!" It was nine o'clock in the morning, and Bob and I had been up since four and had not gone to bed the night before until after twelve. Aunty Vida was just having breakfast."
His food chapter is very passionate and convincing, and there's no way I'd turn down the offer of dinner with the Drehers. On the other hand, there's not enough attention paid to the economic risks that aspiring small-scale farmers face. Agriculture is a very tough industry, and it's seen a century of attrition, with fewer and fewer people involved, and more and more work done by GPS-controlled heavy equipment. As Dreher writes, "Whole regions of the prairies and plains are emptying out of people whose ancestors farmed those fields from the pioneer days." I wish he had found a failed organic farmer to talk to--someone who had poured a couple hundred thousand dollars into land, equipment, materials, who had worked himself, his wife, and his kids from before dawn until well past dark for years, and then lost everything. There must be quite a few people out there like that. And even if the business should prosper, is it ethical for us consumers to ask someone to live on nothing and work round the clock, just so we can enjoy extra yummy free-range chicken?
"Naturally a husband presents enormous irritations no matter what he is doing, and I think it is unreasonable to regard a teaching husband as necessarily more faulty than, say, a plumbing husband, but there is no question but what the ego of a teaching husband is going to be more vividly developed..."
"Unlike faculty wives, students are nice girls who have come to college to get an education."
(Raising Demons, 1957)
Shirley Jackson, Life Among the Savages
Saturday, August 9, 2008
Friday, August 8, 2008
Thursday, August 7, 2008
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
Monday, August 4, 2008
I think the trip was very good for C. It was a sort of intensive social camp for C. Now that we're home, I'm reading a book called Good Friends are Hard to Find, which encourages parents to provide children with lots of one-on-one self-guided playdates. C got hours of that type of interaction during our trip, and there was almost none of the sort of behavior (monologing on subjects that do not interest her audience) that other children have found off-putting. She did really well in that respect. The other nice thing about us traveling together by ourselves was that I was able to focus on her behavior and follow through in a way that isn't possible in normal life, when there are so many distractions and things and people to think about. It was especially good to be able to work on C's social graces right before the start of the school year.
I'm very pleased. Next on our to-do list is to create a larger emergency fund and restore the Christmas, travel, home maintenance and car maintenance savings funds. Then we start saving for our house downpayment. I no longer have a burning case of house fever, but given the uncertainty of our current rental situation, we need to be ready for the unexpected. The housing listings I look at are so stale that it's hard to work up much of a sense of urgency about buying. Also, prices have been edging down slowly but very consistently, and I really don't want to overpay. Next spring is probably going to be too early for us to think about buying, both from the point of view of price and not having a big enough downpayment yet, but two years seems an awfully long time to wait. On the other hand, we're going to be getting closer and closer all the time.
Daddy: C, would you like to go to Egypt?
C: No, I don't think they have any Starbucks.
UPDATE: This post was edited slightly for accuracy. For the record, there is at least one Starbucks in Cairo.