Friday, September 2, 2011

Santa Cruz Trip

We moved away from the coast in July 2009 and since then have been back to visit Santa Cruz exactly once.

We're going back tomorrow for the long weekend.

I hope there is fog.  I hope we find weirdness.  I hope we can walk down Pacific Avenue Mall and visit the pizza joint and Bookshop Santa Cruz and glance up to see the bands playing at the Catalyst that we'll never pay money to see.

I hope the traffic on 17 isn't too bad coming through Scotts Valley, although we could just as easily exit at Glenwood and go through Felton.  I hope the crepes taste as good as I remember them at that Place on Soquel Avenue.  I hope we can get a real good taco.

I hope the surf is up on West Cliff, and the dogs are out in force at the dog beach on the other side of the lighthouse.  I hope we can drive past the old house and admire the new paint job and talk with the old neighbors a bit.  I hope Ella is still alive, well and kickin' and cursing the new tenants next door to her.

I wish Kathy were still principal of the school where I used to work and willing to give me a job whenever I wanted to ask one.  I wish the rent weren't "too damn high."  I wish we had a truck so we could bring the surfboards back - they are lonely sitting under the landlocked deck.  I wish we could sit out on our old patio with beers and music and hear the sea lions barking at the wharf.

Oh, Santa Cruz.  I miss you, and I fear going back to visit.  I love where we are now.  I love the job and the friends and the frank open-ness about this place.  But I do feel The Draw.  And we'll get a taste of that tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow...

..but not the next day after that.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Size 7

Last year around this time a bunch of my friends had suggestive Facebook statuses: "I like it on the kitchen table," "I like it on the floor," etc.

It was one of those breast cancer awareness "campaigns," where you were supposed to write where you keep your purse as your status.  Those out of the loop were supposed to be scratching their heads at how saucy these people were while the rest of us giggled.

I was pretty upset.

My mom had just been diagnosed with breast cancer and here were a bunch of (probably) well-intentioned people making light of it, trivializing it, turning it into something that they could use to become attention-whores or part of an "in" crowd.

I don't know about you, but I haven't run across anyone who looks at me, startled and amazed and says, "Oh wow, cancer in the BREAST?  I had no idea you could get cancer there!" when I mention that my mom passed away.  I think most people are pretty aware.

So this year there's a new "campaign."  Write your shoe size.  Yeah yeah yeah, it's supposed to be "secret," and "fun."  But again this year I'm pretty annoyed and what I think of is the phrase, "Act your age, not your shoe size."  How many people will giggle and write "size 8!" and then...that's it?  I guess I just don't see how it actually does anything to help cancer patients.  This is the third year in a row that I've seen these statuses around: write the color of your bra, write where you like to put your purse, write your shoe size.

"Black - but that's only because I still have both my breasts."
"I like it on the kitchen counter, but I'd really rather be able to hear my mom complain about me leaving my stuff out all the time just once  more."
"7.5, but I wish I could go shoe shopping with my mom again."

Done and done and I feel good, and cool, and part of the in-crowd and I never have to actually do anything to help anyone.

So please, instead of throwing up a status that you'll forget you wrote next week, be creative.  There are lots of things you can do.

1.  Donate to a cause.  You all know of one (:ahem:), and even if you can only contribute $20, or $10, or $5, or $1 it will make a difference and be appreciated.

2.  Participate in a walk or fundraiser yourself.

3.  Volunteer at a hospital or other treatment center.  AND A WORD ABOUT THIS.  When my mom was in the hospital two volunteers came by and asked if they could do anything for her.  She said, "Yes.  I haven't had my Starbucks for a week.  Do you think you could find me some coffee?"  They went out and got her the first coffee she'd had in what, for her, was practically an eternity.  It took them about 3 minutes to find the coffee at the nurse's station, bring it to her, and make her day.  When the nurse came back and asked her if she needed more pain meds, my mom smiled, held up her little styrofoam cup, and said, "No, I've got my coffee!"  It didn't cost the volunteers anything but TIME, and they gave her about 30 minutes of delight in the middle of a mind-blowingly painful (physically and emotionally) time.

4.  If you knit or crochet, you can make chemo-caps and donate them.

5.  Make meals for the families of hospice patients.

6.  Donate crossword, sudoku, puzzle books, or other kinds of quiet entertainment to a cancer ward.

I know I'll see about a million status updates that say, "Size 9!"  But my sister's Bocce Ball fundraiser has only 9 people signed up to attend (out of more than 400 invited).  The cost is less than taking 2 people to the movies, and it'll be a lot of fun.  

If money is your hang-up, first remember that even if you can't afford to donate much (believe me, I KNOW this feeling), even the cost of a frappucino helps...and then if you still don't want to donate money, then you can volunteer your time.  It's free to you and makes a world of difference to the people you help.

And now I'm going to climb down off of my soapbox and go to work in my size 7 shoes.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Oh Hai

OK, I did it again.  I ignored The Blog while life intervened.

In the meanwhile, though, some Stuff happened.

1.  We got moved.
2.  We had visitors - my husband's oldest 2 kids, their mom, and their younger sister visited.
3.  We went to go see my husband's family for their annual family vacation.
4.  We got rid of internet at home.
5.  We had a few weeks of breathlessly hoping that we could afford to make it through August.
6.  We found out that yes, we can make it through August.
7.  We found out that we can totally survive pretty comfortably on my salary alone.

Remember my old post about wanting to research and find out about 1950s cost of living and today's cost of living?  Yeah, we're living that research.

Check out item #4.  "We got rid of internet at home."

$75 per month gone.  At least for now.  Netflix?  Cable?  Gone, too...although the cable was gone long before the Netflix.

One of the bigger shocks to me during the little bit of internet research I did (pardon me for not citing my sources - limited connection time, you know), was that in 1950, 26% of the household budget went toward food, while today Americans spend about half that (US Census Bureau - you can check it yourself.  Google is your friend).  Most of the other budgetary percentages were at least officially the same, which means that in theory the savings we get in food costs go toward our more modern expenses.

This makes no sense to me at all, whatsoever.

With cell service, we spend almost twice what we would on simply a landline.  Quadruple the landline cost if we had smartphones with data plans.  If we had an iPad, cable television, Netflix, a second car, used air conditioning in the summer and propane heat in the winter, bought flatscreen TVs, BluRay discs, made credit card payments, took vacations besides fairly local camping trips, ate out in restaurants, drank Starbucks, went to the movies, etc. etc., we could easily add $1,000 to our monthly budget.  That's a lot more than the modern day savings in food.

Here's our current budget:
1.  Rent + water (combined)
2.  Car payment (which will end in December.  YESSSSSSSSSSS)
3.  Car insurance
4.  Cell phone service
5.  Electricity
6.  Savings (necessities + emergency)
7.  Student loan
8.  Food
9.  Gasoline for the car

Once things get evened out from moving, we can cover our basic expenses on my salary alone, with enough left over to save for $1500 yearly car expenses, $600 for Christmas gifts, modest vacation funds, clothing funds, and emergency savings.  Payable in cash, not credit.

No, we don't have cable, we don't eat out, we don't take spectacular vacations, we don't have the latest gadgets or the most fashionable clothes and accessories, we don't go to the movies or go shopping for fun, we don't buy stuff just because we want it.

We do shop at the discount grocery store, we get most of our clothes at the local thrift shops, we get most of our kid's toys from garage sales or as hand-me-downs, we visit the library (or download public domain e-books for free), we have our kid run around outside in order to PLAY, we give away the things we don't want or need to friends and neighbors and they return the favor whenever applicable to us (BARTERING - it's an ancient concept that works).

In short, we buy or trade for what we need, and forgo what we don't.  And in the end, we have a little left over for a few things we want.

Would it be super awesome to take a trip to the Bahamas or Europe?  Heck yes.  Would I like a new gadget like an iPad, or a service like cable?  Would it be nice to go out for a nice restaurant dinner sometimes?  Of course it would.  But as it turns out, when we can't afford those things and don't buy or use them I don't miss them as much as one might think.  Amazingly, one can survive and even thrive without gourmet coffee and 3G.

We win.

Suck it, Capitalism.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Stuff Like Whoa

Here's an interesting exercise.  Give away 1/3 of your possessions, decide that another 1/6 is trash.  Then move into a place 2/3 the size of your current home.  Then watch your things multiply!

This was our fatal error: not taking into account the fact that the garage doesn't "count" in the square footage of our house.  So 1500 feet is actually, well, a lot more.

Luckily, the attic space is ample so we aren't in as bad a spot as we thought.  And we do have most of the bigger furniture still on the way (with drawers and cabinets and such).  And there is outside storage.

But we'll be living cozy for a while until both of us decide we can part with some more things.  Or figure out how to condense it all.  For instance, I have a lot of yarn - most of it came from my mom - but it takes up two 17 gallon tubs.  By winding it up in yarn balls I can fit it all in a hanging sweater...thing.  You know, the thing you put in your closet so you can store things vertically.  Yeah, I can fit three times as much yarn in one of those things when it's balled.

Books.  Oh my goodness, the books.  So many of them.  And I've already ditched the duplicate copies (both in hard copies and the ones I have in digital form).  And the ones that I can get for free on my Kindle because they're in the public domain.  And the ones I realistically won't read.  And the ones I can find regularly for 50 cents at a thrift store.  Goodness.

And bedding?  Holy cow, we got rid of extra sheets and blankets and we're STILL busting at the seams.  The only things I refused to part with were the quilt my grandma made me when I was a baby, and a blanket I knitted myself.  We kept 2 sheet sets for each bed - one for warm weather and one for cold - and a blanket and comforter for each.  I think what we'll need to do is assess how well the wood stove works come winter time and then maybe ditch some blankets.

Camping supplies.  Big sigh there.  How is it that this stuff can take up so little room in the back of my little Toyota and then magically increase in volume once it comes time to put it somewhere in the house?

My husband's clothes.  How is it that such a simple man has more clothes than me?  He wears the same 3 things every week!  Luckily we have a dresser coming that should solve that problem.

Ironically, I think the only stuff that takes up LESS room than I had anticipated is my crafting supplies.  Yarn, patterns, fabric, paint, canvas, all of it is pretty compact.

And the moving continues...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Please Stand By

Just checking in.  We're in the middle of our move, and we got the internet up and running last night.  However, we still have a lot of treks to make between the two houses not to mention deep cleaning 1500 feet of house.

And work starts up again a week from tomorrow.  So I have a lot of prep work to do there, too.

So here's the deal with the new house: it's growing on me.

For instance, last night the temperature dipped under 50 degrees.  In the old house, this would equate to indoor temperatures of 52-55.  Here?  67.  Yesterday afternoon it was actually cooler inside than out - an unheard of event at the other house.  This is not an insignificant fact given summer temperatures here routinely rise above 95 and often go over 100.

The kid is loving the freedom to run around both the much safer house and the gated front deck.  I'm loving not having to stay within arm's reach every moment of every day.  PLUS it came pre-baby-proofed, with the go-ahead to install more drawer and cabinet stoppers if need be.

We get PBS and network television courtesy of the rear house's cable connection.  I can get all the Huell Howser I can stand!

So yay!

We have most of our kitchen and master bedroom moved, but it doesn't seem to have made much of a dent in the other house.  So we have our work cut out for us.  Posting will be sporadic for a while, but I hope that unlike this blog's previous incarnation "sporadic" will mean just that, rather than "nonexistent."

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Netflix Price Hike

Yesterday I, along with millions of other customers, got this e-mail from Netflix:

Dear Anne,

We are separating unlimited DVDs by mail and unlimited streaming into two separate plans to better reflect the costs of each. Now our members have a choice: a streaming only plan, a DVD only plan, or both.

Your current $9.99 a month membership for unlimited streaming and unlimited DVDs will be split into 2 distinct plans:

   Plan 1: Unlimited Streaming (no DVDs) for $7.99 a month
   Plan 2: Unlimited DVDs, 1 out at-a-time (no streaming) for $7.99 a month

Your price for getting both of these plans will be $15.98 a month ($7.99 + $7.99). You don't need to do anything to continue your memberships for both unlimited streaming and unlimited DVDs.

These prices will start for charges on or after September 1, 2011.

You can easily change or cancel your unlimited streaming plan, unlimited DVD plan, or both, by going to the Plan Change page in Your Account.

We realize you have many choices for home entertainment, and we thank you for your business. As always, if you have questions, please feel free to call us at 1-888-357-1516.

–The Netflix Team

And the internet promptly ignited in a giant fireball directed squarely at Netflix.  As of this morning, when I clicked on "Dear Netflix" as a trending topic, within two minutes there were 171 new tweets..

People are pretty pissed.

Here's the thing: most of the tweets that I was reading weren't even all that upset with the final cost of the streaming + DVD plan.  What people tended to be upset with was pretty much two-fold: 1) that it was a 60% increase all at once, and 2) that there would be no corresponding increase in streaming content or other boost to service.

I get that even if all the people who say they're going to downgrade or leave their Netflix subscription actually do so, that Netflix will still make money.  I get that it costs a lot of money to distribute all this streaming content in addition to DVDs.  I get that it's still less than half the cost of cable TV.

But it's still a comparatively huge increase all at once.  And the tone of the e-mail seems a little strange to me - as though they figure a lot of people are going to quit Netflix altogether so they might as well make it easy by providing the link.  Could you imagine a cable company making it that easy to cancel subscription when they announce a price increase?  Heck no - they hand you over to retention and try to sell the crap out of the great features that they have.  Netflix didn't do that in their e-mail.  There's no mention of how many titles are available via their streaming service or DVD, no mention that they have the best selection for the lowest price.  Nothing.  It's either incredibly cocky or incredibly apathetic.  Probably both.

I have until September to decide what to do.

Here's my thought process:

Back in November 2010 Netflix changed their plans to offer streaming-only as an option.  I had the $8.99 streaming plus one DVD plan.  Rather than save a buck and ditch the DVDs, we decided to pay the extra dollar to keep our service as is.  We don't rent a whole lot of movies as is, but if we rented even two movies in a month then the Netflix would be worth the extra $2.

But November 2010 got me thinking about what else was out there.  I took the time to find out that even in my little rural don't-even-have-a-Walmart-community, there is a Redbox.

Now skip ahead to yesterday, and they're asking us to pay $6/month more for the exact same service.  That means that in order for the $15.98/month to be worth it to us, we would need to rent 6 Redbox movies each month.  Not gonna happen.  That's more than 1 movie per weekend, and we just don't have the time or stamina for that.  It makes no sense for us to keep the same account with Netflix when we can rent just one movie per weekend with Redbox and STILL pay less overall.

So that's what we're going to do, and from the looks of social media we're not alone.

It seems like a really silly thing for Netflix to do on the surface - anger the majority of their customers by boosting their price without providing much justification (or increase in service).  But the reality is, they're still going to be making more money this way.  For most subscribers like me they'll only lose $2 in revenue each month, and I would bet that the majority of users will just swallow the increase.  That's not even taking into account new subscribers who will likely opt for the streaming + DVD plan.

In the meanwhile we'll keep the plan until the last possible moment and then downgrade.  We use the streaming feature a LOT, so the $7.99/month fee is worth it to us.  The same fee for DVDs?  Not so much.  We'll be using Redbox instead.

So Redbox: I think it's time that you sat down at your desk and start writing your thank you letter to Netflix.  If Twitter, Facebook, and my own decision-making process is any indication, you're in for a lot of new customers.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


I came across this disturbing story on NPR the other day.  It's a story basically plugging a book about supermarket tomatoes and why they are so...gross.  (Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit, by Barry Estabrook).

I'll quote the part that was the most disturbing to me: 

" Up until recently, workers on many of Florida's vast industrial tomato farms were basically slaves. "People being bought and sold like animals," Estabrook [the book's author] says. "People being shackled in chains. People being beaten for either not working hard enough, fast enough, or being too weak or sick to work. People actually being shot and killed for trying to escape. That sounds like 1850's slavery to me, and that, in fact, is going on, or has gone on."

Estabrook adds that there have been seven successful slavery prosecutions in Florida in the past 15 years." - Courtesy of "All Things Considered" July 9, 2011
Wait, WHAT?!  People being shot and killed for trying to escape?!  Seven successful slavery prosecutions in the past 15 years (meaning, many unsuccessful prosecutions where there?  How many settled out of court?  How many have slipped under the radar?)?
The author's main point, according to the NPR story, is that tomatoes are a summer fruit.  They just won't grow below a certain temperature.  Florida has that temperature year-round, but it doesn't really have the climate or the soil for large scale tomato crops, so they have to constantly irrigate, use antibacterial agents and fungicides, and fertilize the hell out of them.  And they have to get them to places across the country at cheap enough prices that people will happily buy them in January.  Hence, the actual, literal slave labor.
The author's solution?  Grow your own, or at least buy local if you want taste.  And don't expect fresh tomatoes in wintertime, because where they came from...ain't pretty.
Sounds easy enough to me.  Excuse me while I go water my romas.